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Cornell University 

The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 

By S. G. Tallentyre 

The Life of Voltaire 
The Life of Mirabeau 
Matthew Hargraves 

From the portrait by de la Tour 

Voltaire in His Letters 

A Selection from His Correspondence 

With a Preface and Forewords 


S. G. Tallentyre 

Author of "The Life of Voltaire," "The Friends of Voltaire," etc. 

" Laisser le crime en pais, c'est s'en rendre complice '' 


G. P. Putnam's Sons 

New York and London 

tlbe fmfcfeerbocfcer press 

1 919 

Copyright, 1919 



5 Sd/^2/6 

Ube ftniCHCCbocfiec prase, Hew SJotfi 



"It seems to me," said George Eliot, "much 
better to read a man's own writings, than to read 
what others say about him, especially when the 
man is first-rate and the others third-rate." 

In these words lie perhaps the best reason for 
a translation of the Letters of Voltaire. 

Traduttore traditore is certainly truth as well as 
truism; but there are still thousands of highly 
educated people who, reading for pleasure and 
recreation, never read any language but their 
own; while there are as many more, to whom 
French is a second mother tongue, who would 
never for themselves explore the eighteen large 
volumes (each of five to six hundred pages of 
close print) which contain the correspondence of 
Voltaire, and discard from it those letters on 
which time has set his defacing hand, which deal 
with events which once seemed as momentous 
as they now seem trivial, and which even a style, 
matchless in irony, gaiety, wit, can quicken no 
more; and from among those grey ashes of old 
fires sift out the living embers which glow and 
burn for ever. 


Yet they are worth the search. There are 
many respects in which Voltaire is the best, as 
he is the most voluminous, of all great letter- 

Good letters, in any language, will be most 
often found to be written by persons living quiet 
and uneventful lives, whose range was narrow, 
and who lived rather in books and dreams than 
in the world. Witness Cowper's "divine chit- 
chat" to the accompaniment of the bubble of 
Mrs. Unwin's tea-urn and the click of her knitting 
needles, or to the hum of bees over his mignonette 
and the song of his linnets. Witness too Mme. 
de Sevigne's exquisite babble of affection for her 
daughter; Edward Fitzgerald's delightful culti- 
vated gossip from his country town ; Mrs. Carlyle's 
trenchant wit on her maidservants and white- 
washers; and the delicate thoughtfulness of the 
brief correspondence of the poet Gray. Gray's 
friend, Horace Walpole, was indeed himself a part 
of history and his famous Letters are no small 
contribution to it, yet it is chiefly the petty spites 
of political cliques and the scandals of the high 
life of his day on which he enlightens us. Byron 
— one of the best, because one of the most natural, 
of correspondents — managed to write reams of 
letters through some of the most thrilling events 
in the history of our race without making half a 


dozen allusions to them. But Voltaire was not 
only contemporaneous with almost the whole of 
one of the most remarkable centuries of history 
— born in 1694 he did not die until 1778 — but 
himself from first to last played a great role in 
this century, and was palpitatingly alive to the 
very finger-tips to its importance and its possibili- 
ties — to everything that made it shameful and 
to everything that made it glorious. 

He was the personal friend of one monarch, 
the servant and courtier of a second, the adviser 
and correspondent of a third; and, unlike Horace 
Walpole and Fanny Burney, though he flattered 
kings to the top of their bent, he put them, not 
the less, in their proper place in his scheme of 
things. For he knew, and appreciated at their 
true worth, men with a nobler title to fame: he 
was intimate in life or on paper with most of the 
great men of letters and of the social reformers of 
his day: had met Pope, Swift, Bolingbroke: loved 
Diderot, who produced the great Encyclopaedia, 
and d'Alembert, who introduced it: appreciated 
the faithful and delicate work of Vauvenargues, 
and the noble efforts for oppressed humanity of 
Turgot and of Condorcet. Then too he was 
not only an observer of, but an active participa- 
tor in, some of the greatest causes celebres of the 
time : in the cases of the Calas and of the Sirvens : 


of Admiral Byng and of General Lally, and of 
the Chevalier de la Barre. 

But at this moment, paramount in interest 
perhaps to the rest of his correspondence is that 
part of it which deals with Frederick the Great, 
for the resemblance, often insisted on, between 
the present Emperor of Germany and his greater 
ancestor is strikingly set forth in those Letters 
of Voltaire which present the tragi-comedy of 
their ill-omened friendship. In them we have 
reincarnate a Prince who, like his successor, was 
for ever courting the limelight: who had what, 
for want of a better phrase, may be called the 
religious pose — only, while Frederick sat for the 
portrait of the daring Freethinker, William "has 
God for ever on his tongue." In the great Fred- 
erick of Voltaire's correspondence may be seen 
clearly that strain of madness inherited from his 
madder sire and bequeathed, together with an 
exceeding cleverness, to the present representative 
of the house. The Frederick Voltaire portrays 
had, like his descendant, "omniscience as his 
foible": "fiddled and fought as well as any man 
in Christendom": posed as flute-player, French 
poet and litterateur as well as king and conqueror: 
and, where William "dropped the pilot" in poli- 
tics, Voltaire's correspondence unfolds the cynic 
story of William's forbear who, in literature and 



friendship, made use of guest and friend till he 
was weary of him and having "squeezed the 
orange, threw away the peel." 

The Letters further draw attention to that de- 
lusion of infallibility which had sunk deep into 
the soul of Frederick as into the soul of William : 
and show that that "place in the sun" equally 
coveted by both became to one as to the other 
"le commencement et l'image de l'usurpation de 
toute la terre." 

It was Frederick who staunchly advocated 
peace — until he was perfectly ready for war, when 
he tore up the scraps of paper called treaties, 
broke faith with Maria Theresa, invaded Silesia 
and plunged Europe into one of the bloodiest 
conflicts in history. 

"No man ever wore better than Frederick the 
Great the fine coat called Culture. He fitted it 
so well that even a shrewd Voltaire thought it 
his skin, not his covering," until "he flung it on 
the ground and trampled on it." The writer may 
be forgiven for quoting these words from a Life 
of Voltaire, written fifteen years ago, as showing 
that the points of likeness between Frederick and 
the present representative of his house, far from 
being fanciful or far-fetched, literally sautent aux 

It is not a little satisfactory to gather from 


these Letters that, during his luckless stay at 
Potsdam, the great Frenchman was more than a 
match for that royal host who had not disdained 
to bring about the visit by embroiling Voltaire 
with the authorities in Paris ("That would be 
the way to have him in Berlin") : who stinted his 
guest in sugar, coffee and candles: intercepted 
and made copies of his correspondence; and, 
finally, when Voltaire was escaping from this 
remarkable hospitality, harried, detained, and 
insulted him. But Voltaire could write, not the 
less, with a sure and deadly meaning, "If I have 
no sceptre, I have a pen": and the shining and 
burning light of his genius did indeed mercilessly 
penetrate the weak places in the gorgeous armour 
of the king. 

Altogether apart, however, from Frederick the 
Great and his latter-day imitator, Voltaire's cor- 
respondence, since he was himself supremely in- 
terested in everything, has still some interest for 
almost everybody: and the subjects he dealt 
with — fate, freewill, intolerance, the liberty of 
the subject, of the press and of conscience, the 
treatment of sorrow and the value of hard work 
■ — are not for an age but for all time. 

That he was not only a thinker and doer, but 
also an omnivorous reader, is less to his advantage 
as a letter-writer. The best writers of letters, 


or of anything else, are seldom bookworms; 
learning is a great power "if a man can only keep 
his mind above it." Voltaire's brilliant originality 
was proof even against an overdose of other men's 
opinions: he read, not in order to be told how to 
think, but in order to act: and the six thousand 
volumes which formed his library (which Cath- 
erine the Great bought after his death) were his 
servants not his masters: means, not end. 

His wide reading of course does afford the reader 
many interesting criticisms on well known works: 
and the Voltairean estimate of Shakespeare, of 
Pope, of Clarissa Harlowe, and of the French 
dramatists and the poetasters of his own day, 
displays the brilliancy and acuteness of his critical 
faculty as surely as it displays the limitations of 
his heart and soul, and the extreme generosity — 
a generosity he shares with all really great minds 
— of his valuation of other men's talents. 

But, as in all correspondence — as in all writing — 
the manner is of as high importance as the matter. 
The letters which have lived, and which deserve 
to live, are often marred by the self-consciousness 
of the writers — the consciousness of their own 
cleverness. Even the correspondence of Robert 
Louis Stevenson — one of the most delightful letter- 
writers of modern times — has this defect. The 
machinery is perfect, but one knows there is ma- 


chinery: that its parts have been polished and 
repolished with a skill and patience so admirable 
that at last they need nothing but the highest art 
of all — to conceal art. 

But Voltaire had a fecundity of inspiration — 
good measure, pressed down and running over — 
which allowed him to be at all times perfectly 
spontaneous : and one of the most cunning minds 
in the most artificial age in the history of the world, 
is not the less one of the most easy and natural 
of its letter-writers. 

No need for him to make rough copies of his cor- 
respondence : to repeat and re-dress his good stories 
and his bon-mots, as Horace Walpole repeated 
and re-dressed his : for when he had laid aside his 
Pucelle or his Candide to write — in his minute 
handwriting, on the back of a playing card per- 
haps — an invitation to supper, Voltaire had wit 
left over and to spare; and had within him, and 
knew he had, wells of observation and interest 
so inexhaustible that he was no more afraid to 
draw upon them for a stupid fat niece or an old 
blind woman than for Frederick, the great king, 
or for d'Alembert, the great geometrician. 

Easy writing indeed is very often "curst hard 
reading," but Voltaire's letters are light as gossa- 
mer: when they deal with difficult subjects, they 
have the perfect lucidity which was one of the 


great characteristics of his mind, and which once 
evoked the slighting criticism, "Voltaire expressed 
everybody's thoughts better than anybody." 
But the truth is rather that he expressed complex 
things so clearly that his readers do not realise 
how complex they were — before he illuminated 

Even metaphysics — which he himself defined 
as "Fine names, that nobody can explain, for 
what nobody can understand" — he made amusing: 
and though, as a rule, the reader certainly does 
well to decline to read, for enjoyment, eighteenth 
century writers moralising on Fate, Freewill and 
innate Vice and Virtue, it is not too much to say 
that, even on these subjects, Voltaire is enter- 

Yet here lies his weakness as well as his strength. 
In letters — as in fiction — as in all writing — "there 
must be a man behind the book." Through 
Voltaire's letters there looks out the man who 
had no reverence: his tongue was so often in his 
cheek that when he is grave, ay, and even tender 
in his gravity, one still suspects the sneer: and 
if that be unjust (and when he deals with the 
subjects which moved and horrified his soul — the 
case of Calas, the case of Sirven, the case of La 
Barre — it is unjust) here, not the less, is the man 
born ironical, to whom satire was the weapon 


with which he defended innocence and righted 
wrong, as well as the weapon with which he at- 
tacked, through the Christianity of Roman Ca- 
tholicism as he knew it, some of the most sacred 
mysteries of men's souls. 

Yet, satirist, mocker, giber, as he was, not the 
less his letters show him hot humanitarian, wise 
philanthropist and advanced social regenerator. 

"The worst of good people is that they are such 
cowards," he said himself. Well, he was none! 
Who can fancy a Voltaire (who never failed to fly, 
in the teeth of his own interests and safety, at the 
throat of robbery and wrong committed by his 
own government) looking on as a passive neutral, 
cautiously dumb, at atrocities such as have been 
perpetrated in this twentieth century in Belgium, 
Poland, Serbia, Armenia, under the express direc- 
tion of a Power calling itself Christian? With 
what a trembling agony of rage would the soul 
and genius of that little withered sceptic have 
denounced and held up such deeds to eternal 
execration ; for, blasphemer as he could be, he not 
only knew that "right is right, and to follow 
right were wisdom in the scorn of consequence," 
but was never too timid or too cautious to act on 
his knowledge. 

Though the French in which his Letters are 
written is perfectly supple, simple and luminous, 


it is not easy to translate well. The irony is so 
very delicate that there is real danger of its being 
in translation entirely obscured: the points of 
the keen little arrows of malicious wit, with which 
Voltaire pierced his foes, are always and neces- 
sarily somewhat blunted by their rendering in a 
clumsier tongue. Voltaire reveals his nationality 
in every stroke of the pen; and the translator, 
in Anglicising his speech, must needs beware lest 
he also Anglicise the soul of one of the most typical, 
as he was one of the most original, of the sons of 
France. Voltaire himself said that "he who is 
capable of making a good translation rarely amuses 
himself by translating": there is ample evidence 
of the truth of that saying in every bookshelf, 
and the present translator does not pretend to 
be an exception to it; but he does claim an inti- 
macy and sympathy with the life, works and 
character of the great Frenchman that make a 
right judgment of his meaning at least a strong 
probability . 

His Letters are undoubtedly the most indispen- 
sable of all his works for his biography, and 
in themselves form an admirable autobiography. 
The present ones have been chosen, in part at 
least, for this autobiographical character: they are 
in fact, as in title, not "The Letters of Voltaire" 
but "Voltaire in his Letters": those are given 


which best portray the man "in his habit as he 
lived," and which are not only characteristic of 
his extraordinary mind, but show him in love and 
in prison, recovering from smallpox, lamenting 
a mistress, visiting a king, righting human wrongs, 
attacking inhuman laws, belittling Shakespeare 
and belauding Chesterfield; Voltaire, at four- 
and-twenty, as Largilliere painted him, ardent, 
impressionable, brilliantly beginning the world — 
or, as Houdon carved him, triumphantly ending 
it, the most celebrated man in Europe and the 
greatest intellectual power of his generation, ana- 
thema to the Church and yet, said Jowett, having 
done more good than all the Fathers of it put 

The translator has throughout avoided foot- 
notes — those "signs of weakness and obscurity" — 
and has put the occasion, history and elucidation 
of each letter into a Foreword, which at least 
does not interrupt the text, and thus can be easily 
skipped by the reader who prefers to find out his 
author's meaning and allusions for himself. In 
the Forewords the translator has gone throughout 
on the principle of, Better too little than too 
much; that is, Better no light on an occasional 
dark place than explanations of the obvious. 

The place the Letters were written from is given 
when it is known to the translator, even when 


it is not given by Voltaire himself: and the let- 
ters are, of course, arranged chronologically. The 
whole of each is generally given : where it is not 
given, the omission is simply due to the fact that 
the writer turns aside to subjects which are no 
longer of interest. 

For the benefit of those who are not acquainted 
with the broad facts of the Voltairean history, 
the following brief epitome of his life is subjoined. 

Francois Marie Arouet was born in (or possibly 
near) Paris on November 21, 1694, and was the 
son of a notary. He was educated at the Jesuit 
College of St. Louis-le-Grand, and at nineteen, 
having announced to his irate parent that he pro- 
posed to live by his pen, was sent to the Hague 
as attache to the French ambassador to the Nether- 
lands. Here he fell in love with Mdlle. Dunoyer, 
and was shipped home as a mauvais sujet: wrote 
(Edipe, his first play; and in 1717 found himself 
in the Bastille for two satires on the Regent Or- 
leans which he had not written. Here he changed 
his name to Voltaire, and began his famous epic 
poem, the Henriade. In 171 8 his (Edipe was 
produced, and made its author the fashion. In 
1723 he published the Henriade, which was in- 
stantly suppressed by the censor. Not the less, 
its author became persona grata and writer of 
plays and divertissements at the court of Louis 


XV and his bride, Marie Leczinska, until 1726, 
when he again found himself in the Bastille for a 
supposed insult to the Chevalier de Rohan. From 
there he was exiled, at his own request, to England : 
a visit on which he made the acquaintance of all 
the great Englishmen of the day, and which pro- 
duced his famous English Letters and inspired in 
him a lifelong and passionately reiterated admi- 
ration for British tolerance, liberty and justice. 
On his return to France he produced Zaire, one 
of the most moving and popular of his plays. 
In 1734 the appearance in Paris of the English 
Letters — too free in thought for the French author- 
ities — compelled him to fly the capital. He took 
refuge at Cirey in Champagne, the country house 
of the Marquis and the famous Marquise du 
Chatelet, herself a brilliantly intellectual woman, 
who was for fifteen years the mistress of Voltaire 
as her chateau of Cirey was his home. There he 
wrote with her the Elements of Newton's Philo- 
sophy, and continued the Pucelle, his ribald epic 
on Joan of Arc. From there he paid flying visits 
to Prince Frederick, afterwards Frederick the 
Great of Prussia; and stabbed and slew with his 
pen many a critic and enemy left behind in the 
capital — notably Desfontaines, abbe, journalist 
and traitor. 
In 1746, being then fifty-two years old, Voltaire 



was made a member of the French Academy. 
Two years later, Mme. du Chatelet betrayed him 
for the Marquis de Saint Lambert, and, in 1749, 
died at Luneville, the court of Stanislas, once 
King of Poland. Frederick the Great's artful 
patronage of a minor poet — d'Arnaud — decided 
Voltaire to accept the royal offer of a place and 
pension at Potsdam, which he had hitherto wisely 
and firmly declined. From 1750 to 1753 he spent 
there one of the most harassing periods of his 
stormy life: engaged, and enraged his royal host 
by engaging, in a lawsuit with a Jew money- 
lender of Berlin ; fought Maupertuis, president of 
the Berlin Academy, and finally fell upon him in 
The Diatribe of Dr. Akakia, one of the most scath- 
ing and burning satires in literature. The king 
had taken the part of his president: was furiously 
enraged with his guest, and yet refused to let him 
leave his dominions. After a hundred annoyances 
from Prussian officialdom, Voltaire succeeded in 
escaping it, but could not seek his own country 
on account of the ill-timed appearance of his 
Essay on the Manners and Mind of Nations, that 
"history of the human mind" which attacked 
tyranny on the throne and in the cowl, "offended 
every powerful class and every cherished preju- 
dice," and caused Louis XV to turn to Mme. de 
Pompadour with " I do not wish Voltaire to return 

xviii PREFACE 

to Paris." He went, therefore, to Switzerland: 
and first at the Delices and then at Ferney, both 
near Geneva, made his power felt through his 
pen, and became, as he said himself, the "inn- 
keeper of Europe." 

During his stay in Prussia he had produced, 
for his amazing fecundity, very little: but his 
history, the Century of Louis XI V, had appeared, 
and he had begun his Philosophical Dictionary. 
The fearful earthquake at Lisbon in 1755 wrung 
from him one of the most heartfelt of his poems, 
that on the Disaster of Lisbon. In it he attacked 
the easy optimism of Pope's "whatever is, is right," 
and through the horrors and sorrows of the world, 
"felt for a God" as he had felt for Him in his 
Poem on Natural Law. 

In 1756 the unjust condemnation of the British 
Admiral Byng for the part he had played in 
the conquest of Minorca by the French, first 
stirred him to the noblest work of his life — the 
defence of innocence and the redressing of human 

In 1759 there appeared that one of his works 
which is perhaps the most undying, the mocking 
romance of Candide, which "withered by a grin" 
that "all for the best in the best of worlds" theory 
which he had so seriously and passionately re- 
futed in his poems on the Disaster of Lisbon and 


on Natural Law, which had now been publicly 
burnt by the hangman. 

In 1756 had begun Voltaire's connection with 
the great Encyclopaedia and his closer friendship 
with d'Avembert, its promoter: in 1757 appeared 
its article on "Geneva," which Voltaire had cer- 
tainly inspired, and which, declaring, as it did, that 
Calvinism was but Socinianism after all, and mak- 
ing out a strong case in favour of play-acting, set 
the city by the ears, and for a while made Vol- 
taire's position in it nearly untenable. It was 
at this date that he formulated his battle-cry, 
Ecrasez Vinfame — Vinfame meaning, if it can be 
translated by any one word, intolerance, but par- 
ticularly the religious intolerance which traduced, 
persecuted, burnt, in the name of Christ. 

In 1760 Voltaire adopted the great-niece of the 
famous Corneille, and by editing her uncle's works 
provided her with a dot. A year later, this most 
versatile of human creatures was building a church, 
which still stands (with its famous inscription, 
Deo erexit Voltaire) in his garden at Ferney. In 
1762 he undertook to prove the innocence of Jean 
Calas, Protestant, of Toulouse, broken on the 
wheel for the supposed murder of his son: worked 
feverishly at the case in the teeth of every difficulty 
and opposition for more than three years: wrote, 
with the Calas case as his text, his famous Treat- 


ise on Tolerance; and was at last rewarded by 
the legal declaration of the innocence of Jean 
Calas and of his whole family. The "advocate 
of lost causes," as he called himself, soon found 
more work to his hand; wept, clamoured, and 
strove for the revision of a savage sentence against 
another Protestant family, the Sirvens: and to 
establish the innocence of the young Chevalier 
de la Barre, who had been first tortured and then 
beheaded at Abbeville for an offence which, as 
Voltaire himself said, "deserved Saint Lazare." 
With the body of La Barre was burnt the first 
volume of the Philosophical Dictionary, one of the 
most original and brilliant of Voltaire's works — 
an encyclopaedia in little — gay, witty, daring, 
profound — already anathematized in Rome and 
Paris, and in its fifth edition in liberal London. 

Voltaire was now growing an old man, but, with 
his niece, Mme. Denis, as chatelaine, he continued 
to receive as his guests at Ferney most of the 
celebrities of Europe. In 1767, moved by the 
condition of the poor on his estate, he started a 
colony of watchmakers and weavers: and finding 
there fifty starving persons, left a flourishing and 
self-supporting colony of twelve hundred. 

In 1773, being now seventy-nine years old, 
he put all his undimmed energies into assisting 
young Lally-Tollendal to vindicate the memory 


of his father, General Lally, the Irish Jacobite, 
who in 1766 had been beheaded in Paris for no 
other crime than the failure of his efforts in India 
against the British on behalf of France, his adopted 

When Voltaire was eighty-three years old, he 
yielded to the foolish and flattering persuasions 
of his niece and many admirers to visit the capital 
he had not seen for twenty-eight years. That 
triumphal progress killed him. He attended a 
gala performance of his last play, Irene, and re- 
ceived ovations from the French Academy and 
the Academy of Science, and on May 30, 1778, 
died, smothered by the roses of popular applause 
and recognition. 

.Fearing the authorities of the capital would 
deny this trenchant unbeliever a Christian burial, 
his relatives hurriedly conveyed his body to 
Scellieres, where the full rites of the Church were 
accorded to it. Thirteen years later, in the Revo- 
lution, his ashes were transferred to the Pantheon, 
attended by a procession of a hundred thousand 
persons, preceded by bands and music. On the 
sarcophagus was written: "He avenged Calas, 
La Barre, Sirven, and Montbailli. Poet, philo- 
sopher, historian, he gave a great impetus to the 
human mind: he prepared us to become free." 

To those lines of noble simplicity it may be 


pertinently added that he not only prepared men 
for freedom, but that he fought for them tooth and 
nail against that brutal lust for domination which 
has drowned the world in blood to-day: and that 
his love of liberty, peace, tolerance, justice, and 
mercy breathes not only in his works, but in these 
his Letters, and constitutes their claim to remem- 



I. — To Mdlle. Dunoyer — Arranging an 

Elopement . . . . i 

II. — To Mdlle. Dunoyer — -The Course of 

True Love .... 3 

III. — To Mdlle. Dunoyer — The End of a 

Passion . ... 4 

IV. — To the Lieutenant of Police — On Being 

Liberated from the Bastille . 6 

V. — To the Baron de Breteuil — On an Attack 

of Smallpox .... 8 

VI. — To the Minister for the Department of 

Paris — The Prisoner Dictates . 17 

VII. — To M. Theriot — On the Advantages 

of Living in England . . .18 

VIII. — To Dean Swift — Making a Bargain 21 

IX. — To an Unknown Correspondent— On the 

Treatment of Sorrow . . 22 

X. — To Mdlle. Dangeville — Consoling a 

Failure . . . 26 

XI. — To M. Berlin de Rocheret — On Writing 

Contemporary History . . 28 

XII. — To a First Commissioner — On the 
Liberty of the Press: and on 
Theatres ..... 30 



XIII. — To Mme. de Champbonin — On Getting 

into a House . . 35 

XIV.— To Mme. la Comtesse de la Neuville — On 

the Same Subject ... 37 

XV.— To the A bbS d' Olivet— On the ' ' Pucelle" 

and the "Century of Louis XIV." 38 

XVI. — To Frederick, Prince Royal of Prussia — 

On Free-Thinking in Princes . 42 

XVII. — To Frederick, Prince Royal of Prussia — 
On God, the Soul, and Innate 
Morality ..... 47 

XVIII. — To M. ThSriot — On the Marriage of 

Voltaire's Nieces . 51 

XIX. — To Mdlle. Quinault — On a Quiet Life 

and a Fit of Discouragement 54 

XX. — To the AbbS le Blanc — On the French 

and English . . 58 

XXL— To M. Theriot— On Treachery . . 59 

XX1L— To M. HeMtius— Row to Write 

Verse . . 64 

XXIII. — To M. Helvetius—Oa the Same Sub- 
ject, and on Boileau . 67 

XXIV. — To M. Cesar de Missy — On British 
Tolerance . 

XXV. — To M. de Vauvenargues — On Corneille 
and Racine .... 

XXVI. — To M. Martin Kahle — Criticising a 

XXVIL— To M. Diderot— On the Blind 






XXVIII. — To Mme. du Boccage—Ox the Death 

of Mme. du Chatelet . . 82 

XXIX. — To M. d'Arnaud—ON the Same Sub- 
ject . ... 84 

XXX. — To Mme. Denis — Arriving in Prussia 85 

XXXI. — To Mme. de Fontaine — Felicity in 

Potsdam 88 

XXXII. — To Mme. Denis — On the Same Sub- 
ject .... 92 

XXXIII. — To Mme. Denis — The Little Rift 

within the Lute . 94 

XXXIV. — To Mme. Denis — -The Favour of Kings 97 

XXXV. — To King Frederick — On Inspiration . 99 

XXXVI. — To Mme. Denis — The Rift Widens. 100 

XXXVII.— To Mme. Denis— The Peel of an 

Orange .... 104 

XXXVIII .—To Mme. Denis— The Tension Grows 106 

XXXIX.— To M. Bagieu— On Health no 

XL. — To Mme. Denis — The Quarrel with 

Maupertuis . . -ii3 

XLI. — To Mme. Denis — On the Same Subject i 17 

XLII. — From Frederick the Great— -The Storm 

Bursts . . . 120 

XLIII. — To Mme. Denis — The Dictionary of 

Kings . ... 122 

XLIV. — To Frederick the Great — Farewell . 125 

XLV. — King Frederick the Great to Voltaire — 

Dismissed 127 



XLVI. — Petition to the King of France — The 

Escape from Prussia . . 129 

XLVII. — To the Comte d'Argental — On Inocula- 
tion ... . 132 

XLVIIL— To Mme. du Deffand— On a Friend's 

Blindness . . . 134 

XLIX. — To Mme. duDeffand — On the "Memoirs 

of Lord Bolingbroke" . . 138 

L. — To Mme. du Deffand — On Pope and 

Virgil . . .143 

LI. — To J. J. Rousseau — On the Advan- 
tages of Civilisation and Liter- 
ature ...... 146 

LII. — To M. Tronchin, of Lyons — On the 

Earthquake of Lisbon . 154 

LIIL— To Mdlle —On Good Taste 

in Literature . . .156 

LIV. — From the Due de Richelieu — To Admiral 
Byng — To the Due de Richelieu- — ■ 
On the Case of Admiral Byng . 158 

LV. — To M. d'Alembert — On the Great En- 
cyclopaedia .162 

LVI. — To M. . . . — A Profession of Faith 167 

LVII. — To Mme. du Deffand— On "Clarissa 

Harlowe" . . -171 

LVIII. — To M. Palissot — Impeaching a Tra- 

ducer ..... 174 

LIX. — To M. de Bastide — Social Conditions 

in 1760 178 



LX. — To M, le Comte d'Argental — On Lady 

Mary Wortley Montagu . .182 

LXI. — To M. Bertrand — On Ridicule . .184 

LXII. — To M. Damilaville — The Case of Calas 

AND OF THE SlRVENS . . . 1 85 

LXIII. — To M. d'Alembert — The Chevalier de 

la Barre . 199 

LXIV. — To M. Mariott, Advocate-General of 

England — On Rousseau in England 203 

LXV. — To Mme. du Deffand — On the Jesuits 

and Catherine the Great . 208 

LXVL— To Mr. Horace Walpole—On Shake- 
speare . . 213 

LXVTI. — To the Comte de Schomberg — On the Ad- 
vantages of Being a Brute 222 

LXVIIL— To M. d'Alembert— The Case of Mar- 
tin . 225 

LXIX. — To Mme. Necker— On a Statue by 

Pigalle . ... 228 

LXX. — To Mme. Necker — On the Same Subject 230 

LXXI. — To Frederick William, Prince of Prussia 

—On the Soul and God . .231 

LXXII. — To Lord Chesterfield— On Happiness in 

Old Age .... 234 

LXXIIL— To M. Diderot— On Natural Talent . 236 

LXXIV.— To M. Turgot— On a Wise Appoint- 
ment 239 

LXXV. — To M. le Marquis de Condorcet—On Tur- 
got and Ferney .... 240 

xxviii CONTENTS 


LXXVI. — To Mme. du Deffand — On Lord Ches- 
terfield's Letters . . . 244 

LXXVII. — To Frederick the Great — On the Same 

Subject . . . 247 

LXXVIII. — To M. de Farges — A Plea for the Poor 249 

LXXIX. — To the Baron de Faugeres — On the 

Times of Louis XIV . . 253 

LXXX. — To M. Gin— On Monarchy and Des- 
potism . . 258 

LXXXL— To the Abbi Gaultier—A Dying Testi- 
mony .... . 261 

LXXXII. — To the Marquis de Florian at Bijou- 

Ferney — Paris 11778 . . . 263 

LXXXIII. — To Frederick the Great — Farewell . 266 

LXXXIV. — To the Comte de Lally— The Last Letter 268 



Voltaire as a Young Man . . Frontispiece 

From the portrait by de la Tour. 

The Regent Orleans 6 

From the portrait by Crepy. 

Montesquieu . .... 72 

From the portrait by Benoist. 

Frederick the Great . . . . . .104 

From the portrait by Graf. 

The Comte d'Argenson ..... 129 

From the portrait by Nattier. 

Voltaire at Ferney . . . . . . 174 

From an old print. 

Marmontel ....... 208 

From the portrait by Cochin. 

Voltaire as an Old Man 261 

From the portrait by Schorl. 

Voltaire in His Letters 


To Mdlle. Dunoyer 

[At the date of this letter, Francois Marie 
Arouet, afterwards Voltaire, was nineteen. Hav- 
ing announced to his father his intention of living 
by his pen, he was sent to the Hague as attache 
to the French Ambassador to the Netherlands, 
the Marquis de Chateauneuf. There he fell in 
love with Mdlle. Dunoyer — familiarly "Pimpette" 
— the daughter of a mother both impecunious 
and declassee. Voltaire's love-letters show the 
ardour, the quick vivacity, the resourcefulness, 
and the audacity which belonged to his tempera- 
ment from the cradle to the grave: and serve to 
prove his own aphorism, "Love is the strongest 
of all the passions because it attacks at once the 
head, the heart, and the body." The excitement 


and delightfulness of this passion were increased 
fourfold by the active disapproval of the Ambas- 
sador and of Pimpette's mother — the Ambassador 
going so far as to imprison his attache, on parole, 
which he broke, climbed out of the window, and 
did fly with Pimpette "like the wind," as the letter 
proposes, to five-mile distant Scheveningen, where 
she wrote, under his direction, the "necessary 
letters" intended to help the scheme of further 
elopement to Paris.] 

The Hague, 1713. 

I am here as the King's prisoner. They may 
rob me of my life, but not of my love for you, my 
dearest. I will see you to-night, though it bring 
my head to the block. For God's sake, do not 
write to me in so sombre a vein: live, and be 
cautious: beware of your mother as your most 
dangerous enemy: beware of everyone, trust no- 
body: be ready when the moon rises; I shall 
leave this house incognito, shall take a coach or a 
chaise, and we will fly like the wind to Schevenin- 
gen. I will bring ink and paper, and we will 
write the necessary letters. But if you love me, 
take heart: summon all your resolution and cool- 
ness : keep strict watch on yourself in your mother's 
presence: try to get hold of your portrait: rely 
on my devotion, at any cost. Nothing can part 


us: our love is founded on esteem and will only 
die with our life. You had better tell the shoe- 
maker to order the chaise— no, on second thoughts 
I had rather you did not trust him: I will wait 
for you at the end of your road. Goodbye: all 
I risk for you is nothing: you are worth infinitely 
more. Goodbye, my dear heart. 



To Mdlle. Dunoyer 

[Five days after writing this letter, Arouet was 
despatched back to Paris and to his father, as 

The Hague, December 13, 1713. 

I only heard yesterday, my dear, that you were 
ill — as a result of all the worry I have given you. 
Alas ! that I should be at once the cause of your 
sufferings and powerless to relieve them! I have 
never felt so keen a grief — and I have never so 
thoroughly deserved one : I do not know what is 
the matter with you: everything adds to my fears: 
you love me, and do not write to me—- 1 know 


from that you must be really ill. What a melan- 
choly position for two lovers to be in! — one in 
bed, the other a prisoner. I should implore you 
to get better, if you had it in your power to do me 
that favour: but at least you can take care of 
yourself, and that is the greatest pleasure you 
can give me. I believe I have begged you in 
every letter I have ever written to you to take 
care of your dear health. I could bear all my 
own misfortunes joyfully if you could get the better 
of yours. My departure is again postponed. 

M. de M , who has forced himself into my 

room, forbids me to go on writing. Goodbye, 
goodbye, my dear heart! May you be as happy 
for ever as I am miserable now! Goodbye, my 
dear ; try to write to me. 




To Mdlle. Dunoyer 

[Directly he was back in Paris, the lover brought 
all his fervid energies to bear on a scheme for 
getting Pimpette there, through the agency of 


the Jesuits— a lost Protestant lamb for the Roman 
fold. This scheme was nipped in the bud by old 
Arouet obtaining a lettre-de-cachet for his scape- 
grace. In a year or two Pimpette became the 
Countess of Winterfeld: and some years later 
still her mother, an unscrupulous person who 
lived by her wits, published some of the famous 
Voltaire's letters to her daughter. This letter, 
which is the last one extant of Voltaire's to 
his first love, bears some evidence that his af- 
fections were cooling: and ampler evidence that 
Pimpette's had cooled first.] 

February 10, 1715. 

My dear Pimpette: Every post you miss writing 
to me makes me imagine that you have not re- 
ceived my letters, for I cannot believe that ab- 
sence can have an effect on you which it never 
can have on me, and as I shall certainly love you 
for ever, I try to convince myself that you still 
love me. Tell me two things: first, if you have 
received my two last letters, and if your heart 
is still mine: and be sure to say if you have re- 
ceived my last letter which I wrote on January 
20th, in which I was rash enough to mention by 
name the Bishop of Evreux and other persons: 
tell me this definitely in your reply: above all, 
I implore you to let me know how you are and 


how things go with you: address your letter to 
M. le Chevalier de Saint-Fort, at M. Alain's near 
the Place Maubert. Write me a longer letter 
than this one. It will always give me more 
pleasure to read four pages of yours than you 
take in reading two lines of mine. 




To the Lieutenant of Police 

[In 1717, Arouet, now one and twenty and be- 
ginning to be known as a man of letters, was held 
responsible for two stinging satires — which he 
had not written — on the evil state of France and 
on the evil life of the Regent Orleans : and was 
put in the Bastille — an experience which all 
literary men of his time and country went through 
as certainly as children go through measles, 
and, sometimes, with no more suffering. Allowed 
pens and ink, as well as friends, good food, and 
wine, Arouet employed his leisure in conceiving 
and beginning his epic poem, the Henriade, and 


■:■«: H; 

From the portrait by Cripy 


in changing his name to Voltaire. In April, 
1 71 8, he was released from the Bastille and exiled 
to Chatenay (the paternal home) before being 
allowed to return to Paris. This letter is notable 
for the extreme agility with which the writer 
catches the Lieutenant of Police and the Regent 
in a net of gratitude for past favours — to assure 
himself of more to come: and for the fact that, 
if Voltaire had not satirized the Regent, he was 
perfectly aware, for all his flattering protestations, 
that his character was remarkably corrupt in 
an age when in high places corruption was rather 
the rule than the exception.] 

Chatenay, Good Friday, 
April 5, 1718. 

Sir: The first use I must make of my liberty is 
to write and thank you for having given it to me. 
I can only prove my gratitude by being worthy 
of the kindness you have done me, and of your 
protection. I believe that I have profited by 
my misfortunes, and can assure you that I am 
not less grateful to the Regent for my captivity 
than for my freedom. I have committed many 
faults, but I beg you, sir, to assure his Royal 
Highness that I never was so wicked nor so foolish 
as to have written anything against him. I have 
never spoken of him but in terms of admiration 


for his genius: and I should have expressed my- 
self as warmly had he been a private person. I 
have always respected him the more because 
I know that he dislikes flattery as much as he 
deserves it. I know that in this respect you are 
like him, but still I cannot refrain from telling 
you how fortunate I think myself to be in your 
power, and how sure I am that you will use it to 
my advantage. 

With the profoundest respect, I am, sir, your 
most humble, obedient servant, 



To the Baron de Breteuil 

[In 1723, Voltaire, when a guest in the country 
house of his friend, M. de Maisons, at St. Germain's, 
developed smallpox. This letter has a curious 
interest in its revelation of the medical science, 
and ignorance, of the day — especially in reference 
to the treatment and the (supposed) course of 
the then most inevitable of all diseases — and in 
showing Voltaire's (comparative) enlightenment 
on the subject. For this was the epoch when 


men died like flies, not from disease, but from the 
doctor, and when Dr. Tronchin, one of the few 
wise medical men of the age, had crystallised his 
professional advice into the phrase, "Dare to do 
nothing; fear the physicians more than the dis- 
ease." Even in smallpox, Voltaire dared to 
do — almost — nothing, and so saved a frail body 
and one of the most vigorous minds in history for 
another five and forty years of Herculean labours. 
It will be noticed that, apparently, no disinfection 
of the sick room was attempted, so that the fire 
which accidentally destroyed it was a blessing in 

The Baron de Breteuil, to whom this letter is 
addressed, was the father of the brilliant woman 
(in 1723 she was a little girl) who became Mme. 
du Chatelet and the mistress of Voltaire. 

The "poem" to which Voltaire regretted he had 
not put the finishing touches was the Henriade. 

"Mariamne" was his first tragedy, which he had 
brought to Maisons to read to his host and fellow- 

"Rabel's water" or Aqua rabelliana, was the 
specific of the quack Rabel. The Countess of 
Kent's, Vauseger's, and Aignan's remedies were 
of course all quack specifics also. 

"Tkieriot" (or Theriot) had been Voltaire's fellow- 
clerk when Voltaire was for a brief space — to please 


his father — in a solicitor's office, and became a 
lifelong — though not always a faithful — friend.] 

December, 1723. 

In accordance with your wishes, sir, I will try 
and give you a faithful account of my attack of 
smallpox, of its very unusual treatment, and of 
the accident at Maisons which long prevented 
my regarding my recovery as a blessing. 

M. de Maisons and I were both indisposed on 
November 4th, but, happily, the disease confined 
itself to me. We were both bled: he got better, 
and I developed smallpox. A slight rash appeared 
after two days of fever. I insisted on being 
bled a second time, in spite of the general prejudice 
against this course. M. de Maisons kindly sent 
M. de Gervasi (the Cardinal de Rohan's doctor) 
to me the following day. He came very unwill- 
ingly, as he was reluctant to undertake a case of 
smallpox in a delicate patient in whom the rash 
had been out for two days, and to whom the 
treatment given had been merely bleeding, without 

However, he came, and found me in a high 
fever. At first he thought very seriously of my 
case: the servants guessed his unfavourable opin- 
ion, and took very good care to let me know it. 


They also told me that the cure of Maisons, who 
had made enquiries after me, was not afraid of 
smallpox, and wished to see me if convenient: 
so I had him in, and made my confession; and 
my will, which, as you will readily believe, was 
exceedingly short. After that, I calmly awaited 
death: only regretting that I had not put the 
finishing touches to my poem and to Mariamne, 
and that I must part from my friends so soon. 
However, M. de Gervasi never left me a minute: 
carefully watched nature's workings in me: never 
gave me anything to take without telling me the 
reason: allowed me to see my danger and the 
means of escape — his reasoning giving that trust 
and confidence which it is so essential a patient 
should have in his doctor, because the hope of 
cure is half the cure. He gave me emetics eight 
times: and, instead of the strong cordials usually 
recommended in this complaint, made me drink 
a hundred pints of lemonade. This treatment, 
which you will think extraordinary, was the only 
one which could possibly have saved my life: 
under any other I should most certainly have 
died: and I am persuaded that the majority of 
those whom this fearful disease has killed 
would be still alive had they been treated as I 


Popular prejudice is violently opposed to bleed- 


ing and purgatives in a case of smallpox: cordials 
and wine are always given: the patient is fed up 
on soups: and this ignorant treatment flourishes 
because some people get better in spite of it. 
They forget that cases which survive it are 
those which are without complications or 

Smallpox is, in a simple form, merely the blood 
ridding itself of its impurities, and positively 
paves the way to more vigorous health. There- 
fore, simple cases, whether they are treated with 
cordials or with purgatives, recover just the 

The worst wounds, when no vital part is affected, 
heal naturally, whether they are kept open or 
treated with fomentations of wine and oil — 
whether Rabel's water is employed or ordinary 
plasters — or nothing at all. But when vital 
points are attacked, then all these little remedies 
are perfectly useless, and the cleverness of the 
cleverest surgeons is taxed to the uttermost: 
thus it is with smallpox. 

When it is accompanied by malignant fever, 
when the vessels are so overfilled with blood as 
to be at the point of bursting, when the blood is 
about to fly to the brain, and the body is filled 
with bile and foreign substances which, fermenting, 
adversely affect the whole organism, then mere 


commonsense tells us that bleeding is indis- 
pensable: it purifies the blood, relaxes the blood 
vessels, makes the organs work more easily and 
freely, opens the pores of the skin, and helps the 
eruption to come out: then strong medicines re- 
move the sources of the malady, and with them 
some of the germs of the smallpox, leaving those 
that remain the power of developing more freely, 
thus preventing the disease from becoming con- 
fluent; at this stage lemonade and other refresh- 
ing drinks purify and cool the blood, flow with 
it through the sebaceous glands of the skin, pre- 
vent the corrosion of those glands and, thus, the 
disease from pitting the face. 

There is, however, one condition in which cor- 
dials, and very powerful ones, are absolutely ne- 
cessary — that is, when the blood is very sluggish 
and, rendered more so by the germs of the disease, 
has not the strength to throw out the poisons 
with which it is charged. Then the Countess 
of Kent's powders, Vauseger's balsam, and M. 
Aignan's remedy, breaking up the congealed 
blood, make it flow more rapidly, by dispersing 
the foreign bodies and opening the pores of the 
skin so that the poison may escape through per- 

But in my condition such cordials would have 
been fatal to me, which proves beyond a doubt 


that all those quacks who overrun Paris and 
who prescribe the same remedy (I do not 
say for all diseases, but always for the 
same disease) are poisoners who ought to be 

I constantly hear used a most false and fatal 
argument. "Such and such a man," it is said, 
"has been cured by such and such a means: I 
have his complaint, so I must try his remedy." 
How many people have died for having reasoned 
thus! People do not choose to see that the com- 
plaints which afflict us are as different as the fea- 
tures of our faces : and as the great Corneille said, 
if you will permit me to quote the poets: 

" Quelquefois l'un se brise ou l'autre s'est sauve', 
Et par oil l'un pent tm autre est conserve 1 ." 

But I am becoming very technical! just as 
people who have won a lawsuit by the help of 
counsel air a knowledge of legal terms. 

Nothing comforted me so much in my illness 
as the interest you took in it, the kindness of my 
friends, and the inexpressible goodness of Mme. 
and M. de Maisons. I was also fortunate to have 
with me a friend, one of those rare friends who 
really know what friendship is (the world knows 
but its name), I mean M. Thieriot, who posted 
forty miles to look after me and has never since 


left me for a moment. By the 15 th I was abso- 
lutely out of danger; by the 16th I was writing 
verses, despite extreme weakness, from which I 
still suffer as an after effect of the complaint and 
the remedies. 

I was impatiently awaiting the moment when 
I could escape the Maisons' kindness and cease 
to be a burden to them. The greater their good- 
ness, the greater my anxiety not to impose on it. 
At last, on December 1st, I was fit to travel to 
Paris. A fatal day! I was scarcely two hundred 
yards from the chateau, when a part of the floor- 
ing of the room I had occupied burst into flames. 
The rooms adjoining and above, and their valu- 
able furniture, were all totally destroyed, the loss 
being estimated at a hundred thousand livres, 
and without the help of the fire engines which were 
sent for from Paris, one of the most beautiful 
buildings in the kingdom would have been totally 

This extraordinary news was hidden from me: 
I was only told of it on my recovery: you can 
imagine my state of mind: you know the gener- 
ous kindness I had received from M. de Maisons : 
I had been treated in his house like his brother, 
and the reward of his goodness was the burning 
down of his house! I could not conceive how the 
conflagration had developed so rapidly in my bed- 


room, as I had left there only a small fire on the 
hearth, nearly out. I found out that the cause 
was a beam which was just under the fireplace. 
This defect in construction has been corrected 
in modern buildings: the frequent fires which it 
occasioned made it necessary to pass laws forbid- 
ding so dangerous an arrangement. The beam I 
speak of was gradually set on fire by the heat of 
the hearth, immediately above it : and by a strange 
chance, on which I can hardly congratulate myself, 
the fire, which had been smouldering for two days, 
only burst out after I had left. 

I was not the cause of this accident ; but I was 
its unhappy occasion: it grieved me as much as 
if I had been actually responsible for it : the fever 
came back, and I assure you that, at that moment, 
I did not thank M. de Gervasi for having saved 
my life. 

M. and Mme. de Maisons took" the news more 
calmly than I did: their generosity was as great 
as their loss and as my regret. M. de Maisons 
crowned his goodness to me by telling me the 
news himself in letters which proved his heart to 
be as noble as his mind: his only anxiety was to 
reassure me : but his generosity made me feel the 
more keenly the loss I had brought upon him, and 
I shall regret it, as I shall admire him, to the end 
of my days. I am, etc., etc. 



To the Minister for the Department of Paris 

[Voltaire, having engaged in a quarrel with 
the " Chevalier de Rohan," the representative of the 
haughtiest family in France, challenged him to a 
duel. The Chevalier replied by a warrant to 
imprison his enemy, who thus found himself for 
a second time in the Bastille. The contempt and 
satire the writer permits himself in this petition 
to be sent to England prove that he knew well 
the power of "l'audace, l'audace, et toujours de 
1'audace" — provided always the audacity has 
brains and character to back it. The result of 
his demand was his exile in England for nearly 
three years, and his famous work, the English 
Letters, which bear such striking witness to his 
keen observation and admiration of the British 
character and constitution.] 

The Bastille, April, 1726. 

M. de Voltaire ventures humbly to point out 
that an attempt has been made to assassinate 
him by the brave Chevalier de Rohan (assisted by 
six cut-throats, behind whom the Chevalier cour- 
ageously placed himself) ; and that ever since, M. 


de Voltaire has tried to repair, not his own honour, 
but that of the Chevalier — which has proved too 
difficult. ... M. de Voltaire demands permis- 
sion to dine at the table of the Governor of the 
Bastille and to see his friends. He demands, 
still more urgently, permission to set out for 
England. If any doubt is felt as to the reality 
of his departure for that country, an escort can 
be sent with him to Calais. 



To M. Theriot. 

[This letter was written after a brief stolen 
visit to Paris, during the English exile. The con- 
trast between the stolid and silent gloom of the 
ordinary Briton in misfortune and the lively and 
active despair — ay, with a certain enjoyment in 
that despair — of an essentially Gallic temperament 
is noticeable. 

" The hero of my poem" — Henri IV in the 


"/ was seeking one man" — the Chevalier de 

"My pensions from the King and Queen" — the 
King and Queen of France, for whom Voltaire 
had written plays and divertissements.] 

August 12, 1726. 

My dear Thieriot, I received your letter of May 
nth very late. You know how unlucky I was 
in Paris. The same evil fate pursues me every- 
where. If the character of the hero of my poem 
is as well sustained as my own ill luck, that poem 
will certainly succeed better than I do. You 
give me such touching assurances of your friend- 
ship that it is only fair I should give you my 
confidence. So I will confide in you, my dear Thie- 
riot, that, a little while ago, I paid a brief visit 
to Paris. As I did not see you, you will know I 
saw nobody. I was seeking one man, who hid, 
like the coward he is, as if he guessed I was on his 
track. My fear of being discovered made me 
leave more hurriedly than I came. The fact is 
my dear Thieriot, there is every likelihood that I 
shall never see you again. I am still uncertain 
if I shall retire to London. I know that England 
is a land where the arts are honoured and re- 


warded, where there is a difference of conditions, 
but no other difference between men, save merit. 
In this country it is possible to use one's mind 
freely and nobly, without fear or cringing. If 
I followed my own inclination, I should stay here; 
if only to learn how to think. But I am not sure 
if my small fortune — eaten into by so much trav- 
elling — my health, more precarious than ever, and 
my love of solitude, will make it possible for me 
to fling myself into the hurly-burly of Whitehall 
and of London. 

I have many introductions in England, and 
much kindness awaits me there: but I cannot say 
positively that I shall take the plunge. There 
are two things I must do: first, risk my life for 
honour's sake as soon as I can ; then, end it in the 
obscurity of some retreat suited to my turn of 
mind, my misfortunes, and my low opinion of 

I can cheerfully renounce my pensions from the 
King and Queen: my only regret being that I 
have not.been able to arrange that you should take 
advantage of them. It would be a consolation 
to me in my solitude if I could feel I had been 
useful to you for once in my life: but I am fated 
to be wretched in every way. . . . Farewell, 
my dear Thieriot: love me, despite absence and 




To Dean Swift 

[While in England Voltaire met, among many 
other celebrities of these islands, Jonathan Swift: 
and the following letter asks the Dean of St. 
Patrick's to permit a dedication to him of that 
Essay on the Civil Wars of France, a presenta- 
tion copy of which is now in the British Museum, 
inscribed on the fly-leaf in Voltaire's neat little 
handwriting, "to Sr han Slone from his most 
humble servant voltaire." Sir Hans Sloane was 
the President of the Royal Society. Voltaire's 
definition of Swift as "Rabelais in his senses" is 
well known.] 

At the Sign of the White Peruke, 
Covent Garden, London, 

December 14, 1727. 

You will be surprised, sir, to receive from a 
French traveller an Essay, in English, on the 
Civil Wars of France — which form the subject of 
the Henriade. I beg your indulgence for one of 
your admirers, who, through your writings, has 
become so fond of the English language that he 
has the temerity to write in it himself. 


You will see, by the Preface, that I have had 
certain designs on you, and have ventured there 
to speak of you, for the honour of your country 
and the good of mine: do not forbid me to adorn 
my work with your name. 

Let me have the satisfaction of speaking of you 
now, as posterity most certainly will. 

Might I ask you, at the same time, to use your 
influence in Ireland to procure me a few subscrib- 
ers to the Henriade, which, for want of such assist- 
ance, has not yet appeared ? 

The subscription is only a guinea, payable in 

I am, sir, with the profoundest esteem, your 
very humble and obedient servant, 




To ... . 

[Written from England to an anonymous friend 
in bereavement. Voltaire had lately lost his 
elder sister, Catherine, Mme. Mignot, who had 
mothered him in his childhood, and to whom 
he was deeply attached. This letter — commonly 


called The Letter of Consolation — gives evidence 
of a deeper feeling than Voltaire is usually cred- 
ited with, and of the healing wisdom that comes 
from the heart. His life gave proof of his fidelity 
to a memory, in his unvarying kindness to Mme. 
Mignot's three children — Mme. Denis, Mme. de 
Fontaine, and the Abbe Mignot.] 

England, 1728. 

The squaring of the circle and perpetual motion 
are simple discoveries in comparison to the secret 
of bringing peace to a soul distraught by pas- 
sionate grief. It is only magicians who pretend 
to calm storms with words. If an injured 
man, with a deep, gaping wound, begs his surgeon 
to close that wound so that only a slight scar 
shall remain, the surgeon replies: "That must be 
done by a greater physician than I am: only 
Time can mend what has been torn in a moment. 
I can amputate, cut out, destroy; Time alone 
can repair." 

So is it with the wounds of the soul : the would- 
be comforter inflames and excites them: or, at- 
tempting to comfort, moves to fresh tears: but 
Time cures at last. 

If one gets well into one's head that finally 
nature obliterates our deepest impressions: that 
sifter a certain time we have neither the same 


blood in our veins nor the same fibres in the 
brain, and, consequently, not the same ideas — 
that, in a word, we are really and physically no 
longer the same person; if, I say, we thus reflect, 
we shall find great help in the thought and shall 
hasten our recovery. 

We must say to ourselves, "I have proved that 
the death of my relatives and my friends, after 
having half broken my heart for a while, has 
eventually left me perfectly calm : I have felt that, 
after a few years, a new soul was born in me: 
that the heart of twenty-five does not feel as the 
heart of twenty did, nor that of twenty as that of 
fifteen." Let us try, then, to put ourselves now 
as much as possible in the situation in which we 
shall certainly be one day: let us get the start of 
time in thought. 

This, of course, supposes freedom of action on 
our part. He who asks advice must consider 
himself free, for it would be absurd to ask advice 
if it were impossible to take it. In business we 
always act on the assumption that we are free: 
let us so act in our passions, which are our most 
important business. Nature never intended that 
our wounds should be closed in a moment — that 
we should pass in a second from sickness to 
health : but wise remedies will certainly accelerate 
our cure. 


I know no more powerful remedy for the sor- 
rows of the heart than deep and serious applica- 
tion of the mind to other objects. 

This application changes the gloomy tenor of 
the spirits — sometimes even makes us insensible 
to bodily ills. Any one who devotes himself to 
music or to reading a good book, which appeals 
at once to the mind and to the imagination, finds 
speedy relief from the sufferings of an illness: he 
also finds that, little by little, the pangs of the 
heart lose their sharpness. 

He is obliged to think of something quite other 
than that which he is trying to forget: and one 
has to think often — nay, constantly — of what one 
wishes to retain. The strongest chains are, in the 
long run, those of custom. It depends, I believe, 
on ourselves to break the links which bind us to 
our sorrows and to strengthen those which attach 
us to happier things. 

Not, indeed, that we are absolute masters of 
our thoughts: that implies much: but neither are 
we absolute slaves : and, once again, I believe that 
the Supreme Being has given us a little of His 
liberty, as He has given us a little of His power 
of thought. 

Let us make use, then, of such weapons as we 
have. We undoubtedly add, by reading and 
thinking, to our power of thought: why should we, 


then, not also add to what is called our liberty? 
There is no one of our senses or our powers which 
has not been helped by effort. Why should liberty 
be the only one of man's attributes which he can- 
not increase? 

Suppose, for instance, we see round us trees 
hung with a delicious but poisoned fruit, which a 
raging hunger incites us to pick: if we feel our- 
selves too weak to abstain, let us go (and going 
depends on ourselves) to places where there are 
no such fruits. 

These are counsels which, like so many others, 
are no doubt easier, to give than to follow: but 
we are in the presence of a disease wherein the 
patient must minister to himself. 


To Mdlle. Dangeville 

[Written after the production of Voltaire's 
Roman tragedy Brutus, in which the youthful 
Mdlle. Dangeville played, very badly, the impor- 
tant part of Tullie. No other playwright, surely, 
■ — not even another Frenchman, — ever reassured 


a timid ingenue who had spoilt his piece with more 
delicacy and consideration.] 

December, 1731. 

Prodigy, allow me to present you with a copy 
of the Henriade — a very serious work for your 
age — but she who can play Tullie cannot be in- 
capable of serious reading, and it is only right 
that I should lay my works at the feet of her who 
bestows her beauty on them. I thought I was 
going to die this evening, and am, truly, very ill: 
otherwise I should have offered you thanks and 
homage for the honour you did me to-day. The 
piece is unworthy of you : but you must remem- 
ber what laurels you will win in endowing my 
Tullie with your graces. It will owe its success 
to you. But to achieve that success you must not 
hurry any of your lines; you must lighten them, 
add pathos to declamation, and be sure to take 
plenty of time. Above all, put all your soul and 
strength into the final couplet of the first act. 
Put terror and grief into that last little bit — speak 
slowly. Appear to be in utter despair — and so 
will your rivals be. Farewell, prodigy! 

Don't be discouraged! Remember you played 
to perfection at rehearsals: and yesterday you 
needed nothing but confidence. Yet your very 
diffidence does you honour. You must take 


your revenge to-morrow. I saw Mariamne a 
failure : and I have seen it a success. 

Anyhow, for Heavens' sake, don't worry your- 
self! Even if it does not go well, what matter? 
You are only fifteen : and the worst any one could 
say of you would be that you are not yet what 
you undoubtedly will be. For my part, I offer 
you very grateful thanks: if you do not realise 
how tenderly and respectfully I regard you, you 
will never act tragedy. Begin by being the friend 
of one who loves you as a father, and you will 
play your role charmingly. 

Farewell: it depends on yourself to be divine 


To M. Bertin de Rocheret 

[In the autumn of 1730, Voltaire had had ready 
for publication his bold and vigorous "History of 
Charles XII" of Sweden, which, written in England, 
contained so much of the "noble liberty of think- 
ing" he had admired in our country, that the 
French authorities seized and prohibited it. By 
October, 173 1, he had had it secretly reprinted 


and introduced into Paris, where it was widely 

Paris, April 14, 1732. 

I received very late, my dear sir, the letter 
with which you have honoured me. I am fully 
sensible of your goodness in throwing so much light 
on the History of Charles XII. I shall not fail, in 
future editions, to profit by your observations. 

Meanwhile, I have the honour to send you by 
the coach a copy of the new edition, in which you 
will find some previous mistakes corrected. 

You will still see many printer's errors, but I 
cannot be responsible for those, and only think 
of my own. The book has been produced in 
France with so much haste and secrecy that the 
proof-reader could not go through it. As you 
yourself, sir, are a writer of history, you will know 
the difficulty of choosing between absolutely 
opposite stories. Three officers who were at 
Pultawa have given me three entirely different 
accounts of that battle. M. de Fierville and M. 
de Villelongue contradict each other flatly on the 
subject of the intrigues at the Porte. My great- 
est difficulty has not been to find Memoirs but 
to find good ones. There is another drawback 
inseparable from writing contemporary history: 
every infantry captain, who has seen ever so little 


service with the armies of Charles XII, if he hap- 
pens to have lost his kit on a march, thinks I 
ought to have mentioned him. If the subalterns 
grumble at my silence, the generals and ministers 
complain of my outspokenness. Whoso writes 
the history of his own time must expect to be 
attacked for everything he has said, and for every- 
thing he has not said: but those little drawbacks 
should not discourage a man who loves truth and 
liberty, expects nothing, fears nothing, asks noth- 
ing, and limits his ambition to the cultivation of 

I am highly flattered, sir, that this metier of 
mine has given me the pleasure of your delightful 
and instructive letter. I sincerely thank you for 
it, and beg the continuance of your kind interest. 

I am, etc. 




To a First Commissioner 

[The extreme severity of the French censorship 
of the press in the eighteenth century must be 
borne in mind in reading this letter. Almost 


every French author whose works expressed specu- 
lative opinions expiated them in the Bastille, and 
his printer and publisher at the galleys. 

Bayle, one of the most daring thinkers of the 
seventeenth century, was the author of the fam- 
ous Dictionnaire Historique et Critique, which, pro- 
scribed both in France and Holland, had immense 
influence on the thought of the age, and may be 
said to have been rationalism's first protest against 
the dogmatism of the churches. Those "infamous 
calottes," against which Voltaire had already writ- 
ten a brief, condemnatory article, now in his 
Melanges, were a collection of epigrams, as stupid 
as they were scandalous, which had been collected 
and published in 1732. 

A year after this letter was written, Voltaire's 
own English Letters were publicly burnt by the 
hangman: and he was compelled to flee the 

The system, of course, entirely defeated its 
own ends. The hangman's fire blazed into noto- 
riety the very works it sought to destroy: while 
the secret printing "of the scurrilous and the 
indecent was ubiquitous.] 

June 20, 1733. 

As you have it in your power, sir, to do some 
service to letters, I implore you not to clip the 


wings of our writers so closely, nor to turn into 
barn-door fowls those who, allowed a start, might 
become eagles; reasonable liberty permits the 
mind to soar — slavery makes it creep. 

Had there been a literary censorship in Rome, 
we should have had to-day neither Horace, Juve- 
nal, nor the philosophical works of Cicero. If 
Milton, Dryden, Pope, and Locke had not been 
free, England would have had neither poets nor 
philosophers; there is something positively Turk- 
ish in proscribing printing; and hampering it is 
proscription. Be content with severely repress- 
ing defamatory libels, for they are crimes: but 
so long as those infamous calottes are boldly pub- 
lished, and so many other unworthy and despicable 
productions, at least allow Bayle to circulate in 
France, and do not put him, who has been so great 
an honour to his country, among its contraband. 

You say that the magistrates who regulate the 
literary custom-house complain that there are 
too many books. That is just the same thing as 
if the provost of merchants complained there 
were too many provisions in Paris. People buy 
what they choose. A great library is like the City 
of Paris, in which there are about eight hundred 
thousand persons : you do not live with the whole 
crowd: you choose a certain society, and change 
it. So with books: you choose a few friends out 


of the many. There will be seven or eight thou- 
sand controversial books, and fifteen or sixteen 
thousand novels, which you will not read : a heap 
of pamphlets, which you will throw into the fire 
after you have read them. The man of taste 
will only read what is good; but the statesman 
will permit both bad and good. 

Men's thoughts have become an important 
article of commerce. The Dutch publishers make 
a million [francs] a year, because Frenchmen 
have brains. A feeble novel is, I know, among 
books what a fool, always striving after wit, is in 
the world. We laugh at him and tolerate him. 
Such a novel brings the means of life to the author 
who wrote it, the publisher who sells it, to the 
moulder, the printer, the paper-maker, the binder, 
the carrier — and finally to the bad wine-shop 
where they all take their money. Further, the 
book amuses for an hour or two a few women who 
like novelty in literature as in everything. Thus, 
despicable though it may be, it will have pro- 
duced two important things — profit and pleasure. 

The theatre also deserves attention. I do not 
consider it a counter attraction to dissipation: 
that is a notion only worthy of an ignorant cure. 
There is quite time enough, before and after the 
performance, for the few minutes given to those 
passing pleasures which are so soon followed by 


satiety. Besides, people do not go to the theatre 
every day, and among our vast population there 
are not more than four thousand who are in the 
habit of going constantly. 

I look on tragedy and comedy as lessons in 
virtue, good sense, and good behaviour. Cor- 
neille — the old Roman of the French — has founded 
a school of Spartan virtue: Moliere, a school of 
ordinary everyday life. These great national 
geniuses attract foreigners from all parts of Europe, 
who come to study among us, and thus con- 
tribute to the wealth of Paris. Our poor are fed 
by the production of such works, which bring 
under our rule the very nations who hate us. In 
fact, he who condemns the theatre is an enemy 
to his country. A magistrate who, because he 
has succeeded in buying some judicial post, thinks 
that it is beneath his dignity to see Cinna, shows 
much pomposity and very little taste. 

There are still Goths and Vandals even among 
our cultivated people: the only Frenchmen I 
consider worthy of the name are those who love 
and encourage the arts. It is true that the taste 
for them is languishing: we are sybarites, weary 
of our mistresses' favours. We enjoy the fruits 
of the labours of the great men who have worked 
for our pleasure and that of the ages to come, 
just as we receive the fruits of nature as if they were 


our due. . . nothing will rouse us from this in- 
difference to great things which always goes side 
by side with our vivid interest in small. 

Every year we take more pains over snuff- 
boxes and nicknacks than the English took to 
make themselves masters of the seas. . . . The 
old Romans raised those marvels of architecture 
— their amphitheatres — for beasts to fight in : and 
for a whole century we have not built a single pas- 
sable place for the representation of the master- 
pieces of the human mind. A hundredth part of 
the money spent on cards would be enough to 
build theatres finer than Pompey's : but what man 
in Paris has the public welfare at heart? We 
play, sup, talk scandal, write bad verses, and 
sleep, like fools, to recommence on the morrow 
the same round of careless frivolity. 

You, sir, who have at least some small oppor- 
tunity of giving good advice, try and rouse us from 
this stupid lethargy, and, if you can, do something 
for literature, which has done so much for France. 


To Mme. de Champbonin 

[In 1734 Voltaire, in order to avoid arrest con- 
sequent on the appearance of his English Let- 


ters, went to the Chateau of Cirey-sur-Blaise in 
Champagne, a country house of the Marquis and 
Marquise du Chatelet. The Marquise, one of 
the most brilliantly accomplished women of her 
generation — perhaps of any generation — was for 
fifteen years Voltaire's mistress, and for that 
fifteen years Cirey was his home. 

Mme. de Champbonin was a stout, good-natured 
country neighbour and a distant relative of Vol- 

The Gomtesse de la Neuville, to whom the next 
letter is addressed, was also a country neighbour.] 


Mme. du Chatelet is here, having arrived from 
Paris only yesterday evening, at the precise mo- 
ment when I was handed a letter from her tell- 
ing me she could not possibly come so soon. She 
is surrounded by two hundred large packages, 
which arrived here the same day as she did. We 
have beds with no curtains, rooms with no win- 
dows, cabinets of china and no chairs, inviting 
carriages and no horses to put into them. 

Mme. du Chatelet, in the midst of this con- 
fusion, is quite lively and charming. She arrived 
in a sort of farm cart, shaken and bruised, and 
having had no sleep, but extremely well. She 


bids me give you her kindest regards. We are 
piecing together old tapestries, and hunting for 
curtains to take the place of doors — all in an- 
ticipation of your visit. I swear to you, jok- 
ing apart, you will be exceedingly comfortable. 
Goodbye. Yours always affectionately and re- 


To Mme. la Comtesse de la Neuville 

ClREY, 1734. 

It seems an age since I have seen you. Mme. 
du Chatelet fully intended coming to call on you 
directly after she arrived at Cirey: but she has 
turned gardener and architect. She puts win- 
dows where I have put doors: she alters stair- 
cases into fireplaces, and fireplaces into staircases: 
she has limes planted where I had settled on 
elms: she has changed what I had made a vege- 
table plot into a flower garden. Indoors, she has 
done the work of a good fairy. Rags are be- 
witched into tapestry: she has found out the 
secret of furnishing Cirey out of nothing. She 
will be engrossed in these occupations for several 


days longer. I hope to have the honour of acting 
as her post-boy to Neuville, having been her garden- 
boy here. She bids me assure you and Mme. 
de Champbonin how anxious she is to see you. 
You may be sure I am not less impatient. 



To the Abbe d' Olivet 

[The Abbe d'Olivet, to whom this letter is ad- 
dressed, had been Voltaire's tutor at the School 
of Louis-1 e-Grand and remained his friend for 
more than fifty years. 

" The Pucelle" was Voltaire's ribald, versified 
history of Joan of Arc: "my Jeanne" as he often 
called it, and at once the plague and pleasure of 
his life: "the epic he was fitted for," said Edward 
Fitzgerald, "poor in invention, I think, but won- 
derful for easy wit." Begun in 1730, it soon be- 
came a source of danger: cantos, read aloud to 
a few delighted friends in the Cirey bathroom, 
mysteriously found their way into print. In 
1755 an incorrect edition was published in Paris, 


and was publicly burnt there and at Geneva, 
its printer being rewarded with nine years at the 
galleys. The author himself— though he often 
had occasion to allude to it as "that cursed 
'Pucelle'" — never suffered anything worse than 
frights from it. The year 1762 saw its first 
authorized publication. 

" The Century of Louis XIV" was chiefly written 
at Cirey, the amassing of material taking its author 
years of joyful labour, but it did not appear till 
1 75 1. It was immediately prohibited, "because 
I have spoken the truth," wrote Voltaire to his 
English friend Falkener. Its incomparable verve 
and spirit further offended a government which 
had not only made up its mind that governments 
ought never to be criticised, but that histories 
ought always to be dull. It remains now, as 
Condorcet declared it to be, the only readable 
history of the age of the Roi Soleil. 

The tragedy "The Death of Ccesar" was founded 
on Shakespeare's Julius Ccesar. Voltaire himself, 
if no one else, considered it to be an improve- 
ment on its model. Its absence of love-interest 
told against it with the male as well as the female 
part of the audience, and it was unsuccessful. 

"The tender 'Zaire'" was one of the earliest as 
well as the most moving of Voltaire's tragedies, 
and still in some measure keeps its popularity.] 


ClREY, AugUSt 24, 1735. 

You do not know, my dear Abbe, how sorry I 
am that I have spent so much of my life without 
the benefit of your conversation. You are the 
man of whom I would like to have seen most, and 
of whom 1 have seen least. Should I ever emerge 
from my present happy retirement, I can answer 
for it I shall make better use of my time. I love 
the classics, and everything that is good in the 
moderns, above anything society can offer. Give 
me the pleasure of a little of your cultivation in 
your letters until we meet again. What you call 
my Ariosto is a trifle, not nearly so long as his. 
I should have been ashamed to have devoted 
thirty cantos to such rubbish. There are only 
ten cantos in my Pucelle. So, you see, I am 
two-thirds wiser than Ariosto. I regard these 
trifles as interludes to my work. There is time 
for everything if one likes to use it. 

My chief occupation at present is that grand 
Century of Louis XIV. Battles and revolutions 
are the smallest part of the plan : squadrons and 
battalions conquering or being conquered, towns 
taken and retaken, are common to all history: 
the age of Louis XIV, so far as war and poli- 
tics go, has no advantage over any other. They 
are, as a matter of fact, less interesting than 
during the time of the League and Charles V. 


Take away the arts and the progress of the mind 
from this age, and you will find nothing remarkable 
left to attract the attention of posterity. So, 
my dear Abbe, if you know of any source from 
which I can get anecdotes of our arts and artists, 
of any sort or kind, let me know. There will be 
a place for everything. 

I have already accumulated the building mate- 
rials for this great structure. The Memoirs of 
Fathers Niceron and Desmolets are among the 
briefest of my authorities. I enjoy even sharpen- 
ing my tools. It is an amusement to collect the 
materials: I find something useful in every book. 
You know that a painter sees things differently 
from other people: he notes effects of light and 
shade which escape ordinary eyes. That is 
my case: I have appointed myself painter 
of the century of Louis XIV, and look at 
everything from that point of view — like 
La Fleche, who turned everything to his own 

Did you know that I staged, a little while ago, 
at the College d'Harcourt, a certain Death of 
Ccesar, a tragedy quite after my heart, without 
a woman in it? It contains some verses such 
as people wrote sixty years ago. I should 
much like you to see it. It is of a Ro- 
man severity. All the young women think it 


horrible: and cannot recognise in it the author 
of the tender Zaire. 



To Frederick, Prince Royal of Prussia 

[In August, 1736, Voltaire had begun a correspon- 
dence, and one of the most famous and chequered 
friendships in history, with the young prince who 
became Frederick the Great of Prussia. 

All Voltaire's early letters to his royal protege 
evince the glamour and fascination which, despite 
his astute, cool, and cynical mind, not seldom 
possessed his heart: and he honestly overrated 
the talents of this brilliant young heir-apparent, 
as he constantly overrated (it is one of the gen- 
erous weaknesses of genius) the acquirements of 
more ordinary people. As for the flattery, the 
convenances of the time demanded plenty of it: 
Voltaire's was at least very skilfully administered : 
and, in this letter as in all he wrote, if back and 
knee are supple, there is no cringing of the heart 
of the man who was so little of a flatterer that he 
spent three parts of his life in exile for telling his 
countrymen unpalatable truths. 


"Keyserlingk" or Kaiserling was Prince Fred- 
erick's social ambassador, a lively young Prussian 
with a pretty talent for writing French verse. 

"Newton's Philosophy" was the book which later 
appeared under the title of Elements of Newton's 
Philosophy and in which Voltaire and Mme. du 
Chatelet translated and simplified the Newtonian 
system for the benefit of the French people.] 

Cirey, July, 1737. 

I am quite overwhelmed, sir, with so many 
favours — M. de Keyserlingk's visit, the portrait 
of your Royal Highness, the second part of Wolff's 
Metaphysics, de Beausobre's Dissertation, and, 
above all, the charming letter you so graciously 
wrote me from Ruppin on July 6th. With 
such advantages, I can cheerfully support 
the fever and languor which are sapping my 
strength: and I find it possible to suffer and be 

Your ambassador has recovered from his gout: 
we are about to lose him, and shall greatly miss, 
as we shall always remember, him when he returns 
to his beloved prince, whose supremacy he has 
thoroughly established in all hearts here. He 
takes with him my little tribute — all I have. It 
is said there are tyrants who rob their subjects. 


but good subjects freely give their all to good 

I therefore send in a small parcel as much as 
I have as yet done of the Century of Louis XIV, 
a few verses which were printed at the end of the 
Henriade and which are full of faults, and some 
trifles in philosophy. ... I should willingly 
have added the Pucelle, but, as your ambassador 
will tell you, that is impossible. For a year Mme. 
du Chatelet has never let it out of her sight. The 
friendship with which she honours me will not 
permit me to risk what might separate me from 
her for ever: she has given up everything to live 
with me in the bosom of solitude and study: she 
knows that the smallest proof of the existence of 
such a work would certainly raise a storm. She 
dreads any such accident. She knows that M. de 
Keyserlingk was under observation at Strasbourg 
when he came, and will be when he returns; that 
he is a marked man and may be searched; above 
all, she is quite sure you would not wish your two 
subjects of Cirey to risk ruin for a joke in verse. 
Your Royal Highness would find that little poem 
of rather a different kind from the "History of 
Louis XIV" and "Newton's Philosophy"! Sed 
duke est desipere in loco. 

Woe to philosophers who cannot laugh away 
their learned wrinkles! I look on solemnity as a 


disease: I had rather a thousand times be as 
feeble and feverish as I am now than think lu- 
gubriously. It seems to me that morality, study, 
and gaiety are three sisters who should never be 
separated: they are your servants; I take them 
as my mistresses. 

Your great mind estimates metaphysics very 
highly, and I do not hesitate to put before you 
my doubts on the matter, and to beg from your 
royal hands a thread to guide me through the 
labyrinth. You can hardly understand, sir, what 
a consolation it is for Mme. du Chatelet and my- 
self to find you so true a philosopher, and so good 
a hater of superstition. If most kings have 
encouraged it in their dominions it was from 
ignorance and because they did not know that 
priests are their greatest enemies. 

Is there indeed a single example in the history 
of the world of priests having promoted a good 
understanding between kings and their subjects? 
Do we not see, on the contrary, that it is always 
the priests who raise the standard of discord and 
rebellion? Was it not the Scotch Presbyters 
who began that unhappy civil war which cost 
Charles I — who was a good man — his life? Was 
it not a monk who assassinated Henri IV, King 
of France ? Is not Europe still full of the results 
of ecclesiastical ambition : of bishops who become 


first princes and then your equals in the electorate : 
of a bishop of Rome forcing the hand of emperors : 
are these not proofs strong enough ? 

As for me, when I think how weak and fool- 
ish mankind is, I am only surprised that, in the 
dark ages, the Popes did not set up an universal 

I am persuaded that now only a monarch can 
crush the seeds of religious hatred and ecclesiastical 
discord in his kingdom. But he must be an hon- 
est man, not priest-ridden; for, fools though they 
are, men know very well in their hearts that good- 
ness is better than religious observance. Under a 
sanctimonious king his subjects are hypocrites: 
a king who is an honest man makes his people as 

Your noble character encourages me thus to 
think aloud to your Royal Highness. I have just 
had a conversation with M. Keyserlingk which 
has further quickened my ardour and my admira- 
tion for you. My only misfortune is that my 
health is so feeble that I shall most likely never 
be a personal witness of the good you do and the 
great example you set. Happy they who will see 
those great days, who with their own eyes will 
witness the reign of glory and prosperity! But 
I shall at least have enjoyed the favours of the 
philosopher-prince, and the first-fruits of his soul. 




To Frederick, Prince Royal of Prussia 

[Three things are always conspicuous in Voltaire 
when he treats of grave subjects — the extreme 
neatness and clearness of his ideas, their rapid 
sequence, and the tincture of levity that inevitably 
creeps in somewhere. Joubert said that Voltaire 
was never serious. It would be truer to say he 
was never reverent. 

The paper "On Liberty " was enclosed.} 

Grey, October, 1737. 

. . . You bid me, sir, give you an account of 
my metaphysical doubts. I therefore take the 
liberty of sending you an extract from a paper 
On Liberty. Your Royal Highness will find it 
honest, even if ignorant: would to God all the 
ignorant were as truthful ! 

Perhaps the idea I am always pursuing, that 
there is neither vice nor virtue: that neither pun- 
ishment nor reward is necessary: that society 
would be (especially among philosophers) an inter- 
change of wickedness and hypocrisy if man had 
not full and absolute liberty — perhaps, I say, this 


opinion has led me too far in this work. But if 
you find errors in my judgment, forgive them for 
the sake of the principle which gave them birth. 

I always reduce, so far as I can, my metaphysics 
to morality. I have honestly sought, with all 
the attention of which I am capable, to gain some 
definite idea of the human soul, and I own that the 
result of all my researches is ignorance. I find 
a principle — thinking, free, active — almost like 
God Himself: my reason tells me that God exists: 
but it also tells me that I cannot know what He is. 

Is it indeed likely that we should know what our 
soul is, when we can form no idea of light if we 
have had the misfortune to be born blind? I see 
then, with regret, that all that has been written 
about the soul teaches us nothing at all. 

After my vain groping to discover its nature, my 
chief aim has been to try at least to regulate it: 
it is the mainspring of our clock. All Descartes' 
fine ideas on its elasticity tell me nothing of the 
nature of the spring: I am ignorant even of the 
cause of that flexibility : however, I wind up my 
timepiece, and it goes passably well. 

I examine man. We must see if, of whatsoever 
materials he is composed, there is vice and virtue 
in them. That is the important point with regard 
to him — I do not say merely with regard to a 
certain society living under certain laws: but for 


the whole human race; for you, sir, who will one 
day sit on a throne, for the wood-cutter in your 
forest, for the Chinese doctor, and for the savage 
of America. Locke, the wisest metaphysician 
I know, while he very rightly attacks the theory 
of innate ideas, seems to think that there is no 
universal moral principle. I venture to doubt, 
or rather, to elucidate the great man's theory on 
this point. I agree with him that there is really 
no such thing as innate thought: whence it obvi- 
ously follows that there is no principle of morality 
innate in our souls: but because we are not born 
with beards, is it just to say that we are not born 
(we, the inhabitants of this continent) to have 
beards at a certain age ? 

We are not born able to walk: but everyone, 
born with two feet, will walk one day. Thus, no 
one is born with the idea he must be just: but God 
has so made us that, at a certain age, we all 
agree to this truth. 

It seems clear to me that God designed us 
to live in society— just as He has given the 
bees the instincts and the powers to make honey: 
and as our social system could not subsist without 
the sense of justice and injustice, He has given us 
the power to acquire that sense. It is true that 
varying customs make us attach the idea of justice 
to different things. What is a crime in Europe 


will be a virtue in Asia, just as German dishes do 
not please French palates: but God has so made 
Germans and French that they both like good 
living. All societies, then, will not have the same 
laws, but no society will be without laws. There- 
fore, the good of the greatest number is the im- 
mutable law of virtue, as established by all men 
from Pekin to Ireland: what is useful to society will 
be good for every country. This idea reconciles the 
contradictions which appear in morality. Robbery 
was permitted in Lacedannonia: why? because all 
goods were held in common, and the man who 
stole from the greedy who kept for himself what 
the law gave to the public, was a social benefactor. 
There are savages who eat men, and believe 
they do well. I say those savages have the same 
idea of right and wrong as ourselves. As we do, 
they make war from anger and passion : the same 
crimes are committed everywhere: to eat your 
enemies is but an extra ceremonial. The wrong 
does not consist in roasting, but in killing them: 
and I dare swear there is no cannibal who believes 
that he is doing right when he cuts his enemy's 
throat. I saw four savages from Louisiana who 
were brought to France in 1723. There was a 
woman among them of a very gentle disposition. 
I asked her, through an interpreter, if she had 
ever eaten the flesh of her enemies and if she liked 


it ; she answered, Yes. I asked her if she would 
be willing to kill, or to have killed, any one of 
her fellow-countrymen in order to eat him: she 
answered, shuddering, visibly horrified by such 
a crime. I defy the most determined liar among 
travellers to dare to tell me that there is a com- 
munity or a family where to break one's word is 
laudable. I am deeply rooted in the belief that, 
God having made certain animals to graze in 
common, others to meet occasionally two and two, 
rarely, and spiders to spin webs, each species has 
the tools necessary for the work it has to do. 

Put two men on the globe, and they will only call 
good, right, just, what will be good for them both. 
Put four, and they will only consider virtuous what 
suits them all : and if one of the four eats his neigh- 
bour's supper, or fights or kills him, he will cer- 
tainly raise the others against him. And what is 
true of these four men is true of the universe. . . . 



To M. Theriot 

[These nieces were the daughters of Voltaire's 
sister Catherine, Mme. Mignot, to whom he had 


been so deeply attached. The elder, Louise, who 
eventually became Mme. Denis and no small 
factor in her uncle's life, he is proposing in this 
letter to marry to a relative of his Cirey neigh- 
bour, Mme. de Champbonin. This -parti — and the 
prospect of living in "our little earthly Paradise" 
near Cirey — Louise declined, preferring M. Denis 
and Paris. The younger sister also preferred to 
choose her husbands herself, and became suc- 
cessively Mme. de Fontaine and the Marquise de 

December 21, 1737. 

I hasten, my dear friend, to reply to your letter 
of the 1 8th, regarding my niece. You tell Mme. 
du Chatelet that you think I am considering the 
interests of the gentleman for whom I design her 
rather than those of my niece herself. 

I think I am considering the interests of them 
both, just as I am considering my own, in try- 
ing to have near me a person to whom I am at- 
tached by the ties of blood and friendship, and 
whom I find both intelligent and accomplished. I 
have discovered also a modest little property, suit- 
able to a gentleman and lucrative, which my niece 
would be able to buy, and which would belong to 
her personally. 


I do not know the younger sister so well, but 
when it comes to settling her in her turn, I shall do 
all that is in my power for her. If my elder niece 
were content with the country and would like 
some day to have her sister near her: if this sister 
would prefer being mistress of a chateau to a 
poor townswoman in Paris, I should like nothing 
better than to see her also married in our little 
earthly Paradise. When all is said and done, 
they are the only family I have: I shall be only 
too happy to become fond of them. I have to 
remember that I shall grow old and infirm, and 
that then it will be very comforting to have rela- 
tives attached to me by gratitude. 

If they marry bourgeois of Paris, I am tneir 
very humble servant, but they are lost to me. 
An old maid's is a wretched state. Princesses 
of the blood can hardly endure a condition so 
unnatural. We are born to have children. There 
are only a few fools of philosophers — we being of 
their number — who can decently make themselves 
exceptions to the rule. 

I can assure you, I purpose nothing but Mdlle. 
Mignot's happiness, but she must take the same 
view of it as I do: as for you, who are forced to 
make other people's happiness — it is part of 
your role to add to hers. . . . My warmest 




To Mdlle. Quinault 

[Mdlle. Quinault, a charming actress, chiefly 
of light comedy, was also a witty and cultivated 
woman of the world. She had suggested to Vol- 
taire the subject of his play the Prodigal Son 
and herself played a part in it. She retired from 
the boards when she was forty, in 1741, but lived 
until 1783 — gay, sociable, delightful, to the 

" Those Italian mountebanks." Voltaire's plays 
were parodied by an Italian company at the Foire 

"Decried by bigots and looked down upon at 
Court." Voltaire himself well described the status 
of the actor in France in the eighteenth century 
as "paid by the King and excommunicated by 
the Church . . . commanded by the King to 
play every evening, and by the Church forbidden 
to do so at all. If they do not play, they are put 
into prison : if they do, they are spurned into the 
gutter. ... It must be allowed we are a most 
reasonable and consistent nation." In 1730, the 
fate of Adrienne Le Couvreur, the great tragic 


actress, who was refused Christian burial and 
taken without the city at night, to be "thrown 
into the kennel like a dead dog," had stirred him 
to passionate rage and pity and to his touching 
Poem on her Death, and rankled in his soul for 

" The Abbe Desfontaines," with whom Voltaire 
was engaged in a bitter and famous quarrel (see 
Letter XXI, "On Treachery"). 

" Zamore " and "Alzire," characters in Voltaire's 

Grey, August 16, 1738. 

I am far from sure that I have not finally aban- 
doned the dangerous longing to be judged by the 
public. There comes a time, my dear Thalia, 
when the love of repose and the charms of a quiet 
life carry all before them. Happy he who knows 
how to escape early the seductions of fame, the 
storms of envy, the thoughtless judgments of 

I have only too much reason to repent of hav- 
ing laboured for anything except peace. What 
have I gained by twenty years' work? Nothing 
but enemies. That is almost the only reward to 
be expected from the cultivation of letters — con- 
tempt if one does not succeed, and hatred if one 
does. There is something degrading in success 


itself when we are forced to encourage those Ital- 
ian mountebanks to turn the serious into ridicule 
and spoil good writing by buffoonery. 

No one is better able than you to form an 
opinion on the profession you adorn. But is not 
your noble art just as much decried by bigots and 
equally looked down upon at Court? Is less 
contempt poured on a business which requires 
intelligence, education, talent, than on a study and 
art which teach only morality, decency, and the 
virtues ? 

I have always been indignant for both you and 
myself that work so difficult and so useful as ours 
should be repaid by so much ingratitude, but now 
my indignation has turned to despair. I shall 
never reform the abuses of the world : I had better 
give up trying. The public is a ferocious beast: 
one must chain him up or flee from him. Chains 
I have none, but I know the secret of retirement. 
I have found out the blessedness of quiet — which 
is true happiness. Shall I leave it to be torn to 
pieces by the Abbe Desfontaines and to be sacri- 
ficed by the Italian buffoons to the malignity of 
the public and the laughter of the rabble ? I ought 
rather to persuade you to leave an ungrateful 
profession, that you may no more incite me to 
expose myself on the boards. I must add to all 
I have just said that I find it impossible to work 


well in my present state of discouragement. I 
require to be intoxicated with self-approval and 
enthusiasm — a wine I have mixed, and now no 
longer care to drink. 

Only you have the power to inebriate me afresh : 
but though you have a pious zeal to make converts, 
you will find plenty of more suitable subjects in 
Paris — younger, bolder, cleverer. 

Seductive Thalia, leave me in peace! I shall 
love you just as much as if I owed to your energies 
the success of a couple of plays a year. Do not 
tempt me: do not fan a flame I would fain extin- 
guish: do not abuse your power! Your letter 
very nearly made me think of a plot for a tragedy : 
a second letter, and I shall be writing verses. 
Leave me my senses, I entreat you. Alas! I 
have so few! Goodbye; the little black dogs 
present their compliments. We call one Zamore 
and the other Alzire. What names! everything 
suggests tragedy. 

No one is more tenderly attached to you than 

I am. 


Mme. du Chatelet's kindest regards. Once 
again, Mademoiselle, only warmest remem- 




To the Abbe le Blanc 

[The Abbe le Blanc had published a work on 
England, which he knew well.] 

Cirey, November n, 1738. 

You have, sir, a thousand claims on my esteem 
and friendship — you are an Englishman, you 
are the author of Ab ens aid, you are a lover of 
truth and of the arts, and you have chastised the 
Abbe Desfontaines. I do not doubt that you 
have improved your talents by your study of 
that language in which some of the noblest of 
human thoughts have found expression. You 
must have felt freer and more at ease in London, 
for it is there Nature produces the virile beauties 
which owe nothing to art. Grace, correctness, 
charm, acuteness are the characteristics of France. 
... I believe that an Englishman who thoroughly 
knows France, and a Frenchman who thoroughly 
knows England, are both the better for that 
knowledge. You, sir, are especially formed to 
•unite the merits of the country you have visited 
to those of your own motherland. . . . 



To M. Theriot 

[Since 1735 Voltaire had been engaged in a 
passionate war of words with Desfontaines — ex- 
abbe, journalist, and a person of scurrilous reputa- 
tion, whom Voltaire had loaded with benefits 
and from whom he had received nothing but inju- 
ries. Finally, Desfontaines, out of malice pre- 
pense, published in a weekly Parisian newspaper 
which he edited, some verses, written by Alga- 
rotti — Italian savant, friend of Prince Frederick, 
and visitor at Cirey — in which the real relation- 
ship between Voltaire and Mme. du Chatelet 
stood confessed. Voltaire, stung to defend the 
honour of his mistress, attacked Desfontaines in 
a cutting pamphlet, the Preservatif; which 
Desfontaines answered by his Voltairomanie — 
"the howl of a mad dog" — falling on Voltaire's 
past and present with an unclean fury. In it, 
Desfontaines cited Theriot, Voltaire's oldest 
friend and literary confidant, as having totally 
denied a statement which Voltaire had made in 
the Preservatif to the effect that Theriot had 
seen a libel Desfontaines had written against 
his benefactor — Voltaire being thus declared a 


liar. In the following letter he appeals to The- 
riot — a lazy and worthless person whom Voltaire 
made his usual mistake of overestimating — to 
speak up like a man and right the wrong. In 
the sequel, some sort of public retractation was 
wrung out of him : Voltaire brought a suit against 
Desfontaines and won it: and Theriot was for- 
given and restored to a friendship and favour he 
was far from deserving. 

"His Royal Highness" was, of course, Prince 
Frederick of Prussia; Voltaire had asked of him 
a pension for Theriot. 

" The League" — the Henriade. 

"M. d'Argental" — the Comte d'Argental, a 
school, and lifelong, friend of Voltaire. He com- 
monly spoke of d'Argental and his wife as his 
"guardian angels."] 

Cirey, January 2, 1739. 

Twenty years ago, my dear friend, I became 
a public man through my books; as such, it is 
my duty to reply to public calumnies. 

For twenty years I have been your friend, 
bound to you by the closest ties. Your reputation 
is much to me, as, I am quite sure, mine is to you ; 
and my letters to his Royal Highness prove that 
I have faithfully discharged that sacred duty of 
friendship — to promote the welfare of one's friends. 


To-day a man, universally hated for his crimes, 
a man justly reproached with ingratitude towards 
me, dares to treat me as an impudent liar when 
he is accused of publishing a libel on me — as a 
reward for my kindness to him. He cites your 
testimony, asserts in print that you deny your 
friend and are ashamed of him. 

It was from you alone that I learnt that the 
Abbe Desfontaines, when he was in the Bicetre, 
wrote a libel on me: from you alone I learnt 
that this libel was of an abominably malicious 
character, and entitled The Apology of Sieur 
Voltaire. Not only did you speak of it to us 
when you stayed at Cirey, in the presence of the 
Marquis du Chatelet, who confirms my words, 
but, in looking through your letters, this is what 
I read in that of August 16, 1726: 

"That scoundrel, the Abbe Desfontaines, is al- 
ways trying to embroil me with you : he says you 
have never spoken of me to him save in outrageous 
terms, etc. 

"His only income is four hundred livres: but 
he earns more than a thousand ecus a year by his 
lies and treacheries. In his Bicetre days he wrote 
a satirical work against you, which I made him 
put into the fire : and it was he who published an 
edition of the 'League' in which he had inserted 
malicious lines of his own." 


I have other letters from you in which you speak 
of him as strongly. 

How comes it, then, that he has the impudence 
to say that you disavow what you have both 
said and written to me many times? That he 
should deny a treachery he himself confessed to 
me, for which he asked my pardon, and into which 
he fell a second time, is to be expected from his 
character: but that he should bring against me 
the authenticated testimony of my friend and, 
in order to prove me a calumniator, libel me by 
your lips — can you bear it ? 

This is a case in which honour is at stake. 
You intervene in it as a witness; as a part, a half 
of myself. The public is judge: the documents 
must be laid before it. You surely will not say: 
"This quarrel is nothing to do with me. I am a 
private person, who wishes to live in peace and 
ease. I shall not commit myself." Those who 
give you such advice wish you to do a deed of 
which your soul is incapable. Surely, it shall 
never be said that you have betrayed me, that 
you disavow your word, your signature, and the 
common knowledge: that you abandon the hon- 
our (so closely allied to your own) of your friend 
of twenty years. And for what? For a scoundrel 
who has earned public reprobation, for your very 
enemy, for a man who has insulted you a hun- 


dred times, and whose dishonouring abuse of 
you is actually in print in his Dictionary of New 

What would be the surprise and indignation of 
the Prince Royal, whose kindness to me is so 
marked, and who has himself deigned to testify 
in writing the horror with which the Abbe Des- 
fontaines inspires him? What would be the feel- 
ings of Mme. du Chatelet, of all my friends— I 
venture to say, of the world ? Consult M. d'Argen- 
tal: ask of your own age: if it be possible, look 
into the next — look, I say, and see if it will then 
be better for you to have abandoned your friend 
and the truth for Desfontaines, and to be more 
afraid of fresh insults from that wretch than the 
shame of being publicly false to friendship, to truth, 
to the most sacred of social obligations. No ! you 
will never have to reproach yourself thus. 

You will show that strength and nobility of 
soul which I expect from you : even the honour of 
openly taking the part of a friend will not enter 
into your calculations. Friendship alone will 
prompt you. T am sure of it, and my heart tells 
me that yours will respond. Friendship alone, 
without any other consideration, will win the 
day. Friendship and truth must triumph over 
hatred and perfidy. 

It is with these feelings, and in these sure 


hopes, that I bid you farewell with more than 
common tenderness. 


To M. Helvetius 

[Helvetius was to become the author of one of 
the most famous books of the eighteenth century, 
On the Mind (De V Esprit), whose frank material- 
ism, adorned by the most easy and entertaining 
style, disgusted even that materialistic age, and 
particularly disgusted Voltaire. At the date of 
this letter, however, Helvetius was only twenty- 
four, a young man about town, gallant, delightful, 
just made Farmer-General, and seeking to woo 
fame by rhymed Epistles on The Love of Study 
and on Happiness. But not even the generous 
encouragement and the careful and illuminating 
criticism of a Voltaire could make those stilted 
verses poetry, and Helvetius evidently waited till 
he took to prose to profit by Voltaire's advice and 
try to write simply instead of trying to write 

Shortly after the date of this letter, he was a 
guest at Cirey, and the friendship between him 


and his monitor was confirmed: though to Vol- 
taire, with his burning and active pity for the 
oppressed, the Farmers-General — those extor- 
tionate tax-gatherers of old France — were a class 
wholly odious. But Helvetius, whose heart was 
as much better than his profession as his mind was 
above his book on it, used his office to plead in 
high places for the poor, and in 175 1 renounced 
it, proving "he was not insatiable like the rest of 

When, in 1759, On the Mind was burnt by the 
public hangman in company with Voltaire's poem 
On Natural Law, though he had soundly hated 
(and roundly abused) Helvetius' masterpiece, 
he fought for its right to live, tooth and nail, up 
hill and down dale, on the essentially Voltairean 
principle: "I wholly disapprove of what you say 
— and will defend to the death your right to say 

Cirey, February 25, 1739. 

My dear friend — the friend of Truth and the 
Muses — your Epistle is full of bold reasoning 
in advance of your age, and still more in advance 
of those craven writers who rhyme for the book- 
sellers and restrict themselves within the compass 
of a royal censor, who is either jealous of them, or 
more cowardly than they are themselves. 


What are they but miserable birds, with their 
wings close clipped,, who, longing to soar, are 
for ever falling back to earth, breaking their legs! 
You have a fearless genius, and your work sparkles 
with imagination. I much prefer your generous 
faults to the mediocre prettinesses with which we 
are cloyed. If you will allow me to tell you where 
I think you can improve yourself in your art, I 
should say: Beware, lest in attempting the grand, 
you overshoot the mark and fall into the grandiose: 
only employ true similes: and be sure always to 
use exactly the right word. 

Shall I give you an infallible little rule for verse ? 
Here it is. When a thought is just and noble, 
something still remains to be done with it: see if 
the way you have expressed it in verse would be 
effective in prose : and if your verse, without the 
swing of the rhyme, seems to you to have a word 
too many — if there is the least defect in the con- 
struction — if a conjunction is forgotten — if, in 
brief, the right word is not used, or not used in 
the right place, you must then conclude that the 
jewel of your thought is not well set. Be quite 
sure that lines which have any one of these faults 
will never be learnt by heart, and never re-read: 
and the only good verses are those which one re- 
reads and remembers, in spite of oneself. There 
are many of this kind in your "Epistle" — lines 


which no one else in this generation can write 
at your age — such as were written fifty years 

Do not be afraid, then, to bring your talents to 
Parnassus; they will undoubtedly redound to 
your credit because you never neglect your duties 
for them: they are themselves very pleasant 
duties. Surely, those your position demand of 
you must be very uncongenial to such a nature 
as yours. They are as much routine as looking 
after a house, or the housebook of one's steward. 
Why should you be deprived of liberty of thought 
because you happen to be a farmer-general? 
Attlcus was a farmer-general, the old Romans 
were farmers-general, and they thought — as 
Romans. Go ahead, Atticus. 


To M. Helvetius 

[Boileau-Despreaux, the seventeenth century poet 
and critic, was remarkable, as Voltaire here says, 
for doing excellently well, in a limited sphere. 
His neat, regular, and vigorous lines remind one of 
Pope, who imitated Boileau's masterpiece VArt 


Poetique in his Essay on Criticism, and Boileau's 
Lutrin in the Rape of the Lock.] 

Brussels, June 20, 1741. 

I greatly reproach myself for my laziness, my 
dear friend, but I have been for a whole month 
so unworthily occupied in prose that I hardly 
dare write to you of verse. My imagination is 
weighed down by studies which are to poetry 
what dark and dusty old furniture is to a gaily-lit 
ballroom. I must shake off the dust to reply to 

You have written to me a letter in which I re- 
cognise your genius. You find Boileau fairly 
clever: I agree with you that he has neither sublim- 
ity nor a very brilliant imagination; but he has 
done exceedingly well what he could do, and what 
he set out to do. He has put good sense into 
melodious verse; he is clear, logical, easy, and 
agreeable in his transitions; he never soars high, 
or falls low. His subjects are not suitable for 
the dignified treatment yours deserve. You have 
realised what your talent is, just as he realised 
his. You are a philosopher, you see everything 
life-size, your brush is bold and big. So far, 
nature has made you (I say it in all sincerity) 
greatly Despreaux's superior: but your talents, 
fine as they are, will be nothing without his. You 


have so much the more need of his correctness 
because the breadth of your thoughts is less 
tolerant of circumstriction. It is no trouble to 
you to think, but much to write. I shall therefore 
never cease to preach to you that art of writing 
which Despreaux knew and taught so well, the 
respect for our language, the sequence of ideas, 
the easy manner in which he carries his reader 
with him, the naturalness which is the result of 
art, and the appearance of ease which involves 
such hard work. A word out of place spoils the 
finest thought. Boileau's ideas — I confess it once 
more — are never fine, but they are never ill set out : 
so, to be better than he is, it is essential to begin 
by writing as clearly and correctly. 

No false steps can be permitted in your stately 
measure : in a little minuet they would not matter. 
You sparkle with precious stones; his dress is sim- 
ple but well made. Your diamonds must be in 
good order lest your diadem shame you. Send 
me then, dear friend, something which is as well 
worked out as it is nobly conceived : do not dis- 
dain to be at once the owner of the mine and the 
gold digger. You know, by my writing to you 
thus, how great an interest I feel in your re- 
putation, and that of the arts. Your last visit 
has doubled my regard for you. It really looks 
as if I should stop writing verses, and content 


myself with admiring yours. Mme. du Chatelet, 
who has written to you, sends kindest regards. 
Goodbye, yours for ever. 


To M. Cesar de Missy 

[M. de Missy was the chaplain of the French 
Church of St. James's in London. 

Voltaire's tragedy, Fanaticism, or Mahomet 
the Prophet, had been produced on August 19th 
of the year 1742 to a crowded and enthusiastic 
audience in Paris. But its attack upon bigotry 
and intolerance was indeed, as the author himself 
said, too outspoken for the French authorities, 
who, without reading a line of it, declared it 
"infamous, wicked, irreligious, blasphemous," and 
after four performances demanded its withdrawal. 
Voltaire, wholly disgusted, left Paris for Brus- 
sels with Mme. du Chatelet on August 29th, and 
spent his time there in sitting up in bed — for he 
was ill, as usual — making a fair and correct copy 
of the play to send to Frederick (by now King 
Frederick of Prussia) and in writing to M. Cesar 
de Missy.] 


Brussels, September I, 1742. 

I found, sir, on my return to Brussels, a very 
welcome letter from you: to which I only reply 
in vile prose, in order that you may have it the 
sooner. I do not know if the country you have 
adopted as yours has become the enemy of the 
one which chance of birth made mine: but I do 
know that minds which think like yours are all 
my countrymen and my friends. I beg you then, 
sir, to prove your friendship by sending me as 
much of the Universal History as has so far 
appeared in English. . . . 

A little while ago a small edition of my works 
was published in Paris, under the title of the Gene- 
van edition; publishers, Bousquet; it is the least 
incorrect and the most complete I have seen. 
I have ordered some copies, and shall have the 
honour of sending you one. 

If any publisher in London likes to reprint them, 
I will send him corrected proofs, in good order, 
accompanied by some curious little papers which 
have not yet appeared: above all, by my trag- 
edy of Mahomet, or Fanaticism, which is a 
great Tartufe, so the fanatics have stopped its 
being played in Paris, just as the pious tried to 
smother the other "Tartuffe" at his birth. My 
tragedy is suited, I believe, rather to English 
heads than French hearts. Paris found it too 


daring, because it is strong: and dangerous, because 
it is truthful. I tried to show in it into what 
horrible excesses fanaticism, led by an impostor, 
can plunge weak minds. 

My piece represents, under the guise of Mahomet, 
the Prior of the Jacobins giving the dagger to 
Jacques Clement, who is further incited to that 
crime by his mistress. The author of the Henri- 
ade was recognized in the work; and he must 
be persecuted: for he loves truth and humankind. 
It is only in London that poets are allowed to be 

My compliments to M. Nancy, from whom I 
have received a letter. Farewell, sir: you may 
depend on my gratitude and affection. 



To M. de Vauvenargues 

[Vauvenargues, who became the famous author 
of some of the wisest and most delicately beautiful 
maxims even in the French language — that lan- 
guage of the maxim par excellence — was at the 
date of this letter a handsome young soldier of 



From the portrait by Benoisl 


eight and twenty, who had been with Marshal 
Villars on his last Italian campaign, and in Bohe- 
mia with Belle-Isle, where in 1742 he had endured 
with his regiment all the horrors of the great mid- 
winter march from Prague to Egra. He returned 
to Paris with his health utterly ruined: but 
purposing not the less to rejoin his regiment in 
Germany, which purpose he effected, and fought 
at Dettingen. It was during this interlude in 
Paris that he introduced himself to Voltaire in a 
letter in which he expressed his preference for 
Racine over Corneille. 

After the campaign of '42, when Vauvenargues 
had become a complete invalid, their friendship 
was resumed: and it was on Voltaire's advice that 
Vauvenargues took up literature as a profession, 
and so gave the world that slender volume, con- 
taining only the Maxims and a few Counsels and 
Reflections, which in its strong sense, serenity, 
courage, and sweetness remains for ever the 
noblest inspiration to Do What One Can. To 
the last a most patient sufferer, his life ended 
at the early age of thirty-two: Voltaire's re- 
spect and reverence for him died only with his 
own death. 

"The Persian Letters" — Les Lettres Persanes — 
were the first great literary success of the famous 
Montesquieu, the celebrated writer on law and 


politics. Though extremely lively and satirical, 
the Letters are not without the weightier ob- 
servations which distinguish the later work by 
which .Montesquieu chiefly lives, V Esprit des Lois 
(see Letter LVI, "A Profession of Faith")- The 
judgment of posterity has confirmed Voltaire's that 
Montesquieu's "little book on the Decadence 
of the Romans" was a far more solid and able 
work than The Persian Letters.] 

Paris, April 15, 1743. 

I had the honour to tell the Due de Duras yester- 
day that I had just received a letter from a wit 
and a philosopher, who was at the same time 
captain in the King's Regiment. He at once 
guessed it must be M. de Vauvenargues. It would 
indeed be very difficult to find two persons capa- 
ble of writing such a letter, and, since I have 
known what taste is, I have seen nothing so deli- 
cate and so thoughtful as the words you have sent 

There were not four men in the last century 
who dared to confess that Corneille was often 
nothing but a declaimer: you, sir, feel and express 
this fact as a man of truth and enlightenment. I 
am not surprised that a mind as sagacious and 


critical as yours should prefer the art of Racine 
— his eloquent wisdom (always the master of his 
feelings) which makes him say what is to be said 
as it ought to be said : but, at the same time, I am 
persuaded that the same good taste, which has 
made you feel the superiority of the art of Racine, 
must make you admire the genius of Corneille, 
who created tragedy in a barbarous age. Inven- 
tors take, most rightly, the highest rank in fame. 

The beautiful scene of Horace and Curiace, 
the two charming scenes from the Cid, much of 
Cinna, the part of Severe, almost all Pauline's, and 
half the last act of Rodogune, would bear com- 
parison with Athalie even if they had been written 
to-day. How then should we regard them when 
we consider the times in which Corneille wrote? 
I have always said: In domo patris mei mansiones 
multce sunt. Moliere has not prevented me from 
appreciating Destouches' Glorieux: Rhadamiste 
has moved me even after Phedre. Such a man as 
you, sir, should have preferences, but no exclu- 

You are right, I think, to condemn the wise 
Despreaux for comparing Voiture to Horace. 
Voiture's reputation deserves to decline, because 
he is hardly ever natural, and his few attractions 
are of a trifling and frivolous" nature. But 


there are sublime things in Corneille, in the 
midst of his frigid reasoning; and sometimes 
things so touching that he must needs be re- 
spected with all his drawbacks. Leonardo da 
Vinci is lovable even beside Titian and Paul 

I am aware, sir, the public does not sufficiently 
realise Corneille's faults: it mistakes some of them 
for his few and exquisite beauties. 

Time alone adjusts values: the ordinary reader 
is always dazzled at first. 

We began by being wildly enthusiastic over those 
Persian Letters of which you were speaking, and 
neglected the little Decadence of the Romans by the 
same author. Now, however, all the best judges 
acclaim the excellent good sense of the latter book, 
at first despised, and think little of that imaginative 
trifle, the Persian Letters, whose occasional daring 
is its chief merit. The majority of critics fall in, 
in the long run, with the opinions of the enlight- 
ened few: you, sir, are made to lead that minority. 
I am grieved that the soldier's career which you 
have chosen keeps you from a city where I might 
have benefited by your knowledge: but the 
same just mind which makes you prefer the 
restraint of Racine to the exuberance of 
Corneille, and the wisdom of Locke to the 
wordiness of Bayle, will serve you well in your 


own profession, as everywhere and in every- 
thing. . . . 



To M. Martin Kahle 

I am very pleased to hear, sir, that you have 
written a little book against me. You do me too 
much honour. On page 17 you reject the proof, 
from final causes, of the existence of God. If you 
had argued thus at Rome, the reverend father and 
governor of the Holy Palace would have condemned 
you to the Inquisition: if you had written thus 
against a theologian of Paris, he would have had 
your proposition censured by the sacred faculty: 
if against a devout person, he would have abused 
you : but I have the honour to be neither a Jesuit, 
nor a theologian, nor a devotee. I shall leave you 
to your opinion, and shall remain of mine. I shall 
always be convinced that a watch proves a watch- 
maker, and that the universe proves a God. I hope 
that you yourself understand what you say con- 
cerning space and eternity, the necessity of matter, 


and preordained harmony: and I recommend you 
to look once more at what / said, finally, in the new 
edition, where I earnestly endeavoured to make 
myself thoroughly understood — and in metaphysics 
that is no easy task. 

You quote, a propos of space and infinity, the 
Medea of Seneca, the Philippics of Cicero, and 
the Metamorphoses of Ovid; also the verses of 
the Duke of Buckingham, of Gombaud, Regnier, 
and Rapin. I must tell you, sir, I know at least 
as much poetry as you do: that I am quite as 
fond of it: that if it comes to capping verses we 
shall see some very pretty sport: only I do not 
think them suitable to shed light on a meta- 
physical question, be they Lucretius' or the Car- 
dinal de Polignac's. 

Furthermore, if ever you understand anything 
about preordained harmony — if you discover 
how, under the law of necessity, man is free, you 
will do me a service if you will pass on the 
information to me. When you have shown, in 
verse or otherwise, why so many men cut their 
throats in the best of all possible worlds, I shall be 
exceedingly obliged to you. 

I await your arguments, your verses, and your 
abuse : and assure you from the bottom of my heart 
that neither you nor I know anything about the 
matter. I have the honour to be, etc. 



To M. Diderot 

[Diderot — the brilliant ne'er-do-weel of the philo- 
sophic party and, to be, the hot-headed and hot- 
hearted instigator of the great Encyclopaedia, the 
book "that was all books" — in 1749 wrote his 
famous Letter on the Blind for the Use of Those Who 
See and sent it to Voltaire as the chief of that party 
of which his own Philosophical Thoughts, published 
four years earlier, had proclaimed him a member. 
Voltaire's letter in reply reveals his own deism, 
as it reveals Diderot's atheism, and explains the 
meaning of the jesting epithet " cagot " = bigot 
— which Diderot so often applied to Voltaire. 
Diderot's Letter contained unfortunately a sneer 
at the expense of a fine lady, the chere amie of 
a minister of state, and so presently imprisoned him 
in Vincennes : from whence Mme. du Chatelet (who 
was a near relation of the governor of the fortress), 
urged by Voltaire, speedily obtained his release. 
Diderot, though he was Voltaire's correspondent 
for twenty-nine years, never saw him until 
1778, when Voltaire was on his last triumph- 
ant visit to Paris, and Diderot was himself growing 


" The book I send you" was the Elements of New- 
tons Philosophy. 

" Saunders on, who denies a God because he was 
born sightless," was the subject of a successful 
operation for cataract which had inspired Diderot's 
Letter, Diderot himself being of the opinion that, 
to a man born blind, atheism was a natural religion. 

"Before I leave Luneville," where Voltaire was 
staying at the court of Stanislas, ex-King of 

June, 1749. 

I thank you, sir, for the profound and brilliant 
work you have been so good as to send me: the 
book I send you is neither the one nor the other, 
but in it you will find the anecdote of the man born 
blind set forth in greater detail than in the earlier 
editions. I am entirely of your opinion as to what 
you say respecting the judgment formed in such a 
case by ordinary men of average good sense, and 
that formed by philosophers. I am sorry that in 
the examples you quote you have forgotten the 
case of the blind who, receiving the gift of sight, 
saw men as trees walking. 

I have read your book with great pleasure. It 
says much, and gives still more to be understood. 
I have long honoured you as much as I despise the 
stupid vandals who condemn what they do not 


understand, and the wicked who unite themselves 
with the fools to denounce those who are trying to 
enlighten them. 

But I confess I am not at all of the opinion of 
Saunderson, who denies a God because he was born 
sightless. I am, perhaps, mistaken, but, in his 
place, I should recognise a great Intelligence who 
had given me so many substitutes for sight, and 
perceiving, on reflection, the wonderful relations 
between all things, I should have suspected a Work- 
man, infinitely able. If it is very presumptuous to 
pretend to divine what He is, and why He has made 
everything that exists, so it seems to me very pre- 
sumptuous to deny that He is. 

I am exceedingly anxious to meet and talk with 
you, whether you think yourself one of His works, 
or a particle drawn, of necessity, from matter, 
eternal and necessary. Whatever you are, you 
are a worthy part of that great whole which I do 
not understand. 

I very much wish, before I leave Luneville, you 
would do me the honour to join a philosophers' 
feast at my table with a few other wise men. I am 
not one myself, but I have a passion for them when 
they are wise after your fashion. Rest assured, sir, 
that I appreciate your merits, and that to render 
them fuller justice I long to see you and assure you 
etc., etc. 




To Mme. du Boccage 

[Mme. du Boccage, a pretty and charming woman, 
was greatly overrated as a poetess by almost all 
her contemporaries, including Voltaire. "Your 
translation of Milton" was her imitation of Paradise 
Lost which she called Le Paradis Terrestre. Her 
Letters, written on her travels, are much her best 
performance. In 1758, she was Voltaire's guest at 

In September, 1749, Mme. du Chatelet, with whom 
Voltaire's connection had lasted for fifteen years, 
died suddenly, in childbirth, at the Court of King 
Stanislas at Luneville, while she, Voltaire, and the 
Marquis de Saint Lambert, who was now her 
lover, were on a visit there. Faithless to Voltaire 
as she had been, that he sincerely and passionately 
regretted her death and the loss of her clever and 
stimulating companionship, the two following let- 
ters bear evidence. 

"A wretch named Roi. " Roi, or Roy, was a scur- 
rilous old poet who, in 1745-6, jealous of Voltaire's 
election to the French Academy, had burlesqued 
and lampooned him; and whom Voltaire had not 
been wise enough to treat with the silence of con- 


tempt. Roi saw in Mme. du Chatelet's death the 
chance to sting afresh.] 

Paris, October 12, 1749. 

I have just arrived in Paris, madam: the great- 
ness of my sorrow and my wretched health shall 
not prevent my at once assuring you how deeply I 
feel your kindness. A mind as noble as yours must 
needs regret such a woman as Mme. du Chatelet. 
She was an honour to her sex and to France. She 
was to philosophy what you are to literature : and 
although she had just translated and simplified 
Newton — that is to say, done what, at most, three 
or four men in France would have dared to attempt 
— she also regularly cultivated, by reading lighter 
books, the splendid intelligence which nature had 
given her. Alas, madam! it was but four days 
before her death that I re-read your tragedy with 
her. We had also read together your translation 
of Milton, with the original. You would regret 
her yet more had you been present at this reading. 
She rendered you justice : you had no more sincere 
admirer. Just after her death there appeared a 
feeble quatrain belauding her. People with neither 
taste nor feeling ascribed it to me. Any one who 
could suppose that in the depth of my grief I should 
feel inclined to write verses on her must be himself 
unworthy of friendship, or exceedingly light minded: 


but what is much more horrible and culpable is that 
a wretch, named Roi, has actually dared to lam- 
poon her. 

I know, madam, only one thing against your 
character — to have been the object of that miser- 
able creature's flattery. Society should unite to 
exterminate him. Was not my misery great 
enough, without that horror to crown it? Fare- 
well, madam .... 



To M. d'Arnaud 

[Baculard d'Arnaud was a conceited and very 
mediocre young poet whom Voltaire had helped 
with gifts of money and for whom he had procured 
the post of Paris correspondent to King Frederick 
the Great. For several years before the death of 
Mme. du Chatelet Frederick had been trying to 
tempt Voltaire from France to Potsdam: she suc- 
cessfully opposed that desertion: but the phrase 
in this letter, " I am very far from going to Prussia," 
certainly means, "I am not so far from it as I used 
to be, " and Frederick was already endeavouring by 
compliments and pensions to his protege, d'Arnaud, 
to pique Voltaire to accept them for himself.] 


Paris, October 14, 1749. 

My dear boy, a woman who translated Virgil, 
who translated and simplified Newton, and yet was 
perfectly unassuming in conversation and manner: 
a woman who never spoke ill of anyone and never 
uttered a lie: a constant and fearless friend — in a 
word, a great man, whom other women only 
thought of in connection with diamonds and danc- 
ing: for such a woman as this you cannot prevent 
my grieving all my life. I am very far from going 
to Prussia: I can hardly leave the house. I am 
much touched by your kindness: I have need of 
it. . . . Goodbye, my dear Arnaud. 


To Mme. Denis 

[Mme. Denis, Voltaire's niece, — now widowed, — 
had come to keep his house for him in Paris after 
the death of Mme. du Chatelet. Vulgar, lively, 
good-natured — the very apotheosis of the common- 
place — her uncle's toleration of her can only be ac- 
counted for by the fact that genius, or even very 
great talent, is nearly always generous to mediocrity : 
and seems to use some of its own wits to discover 


those of people usually credited with none. It 
will be noticed in this letter that Voltaire tried his 
best to entice his niece to follow him to Prussia: 
whither he had gone at last, finally spurred to that 
rash act by the fact that Baculard d'Arnaud was 
in such high favour there that King Frederick — 
astutely calculating the effect of such compliments 
— had written the young gentleman a poem in 
which Voltaire was alluded to as the setting, and 
d'Arnaud as the rising, sun. "When a wise man 
commits a folly, it is not a small one." In all 
Voltaire's early letters from Prussia, he is, as it 
were, trying to justify his folly in going there, and 
to prove it wisdom. This letter was written about 
a fortnight after his arrival. 

"He treats Popes much better than pretty women." 
Frederick's contempt of the sex was notorious. 

"It is essential that the King, my master, should 
consent." The King of France. Voltaire was 
still his Gentleman-in-Ordinary. The story ran 
that when Voltaire had asked permission of him 
to visit King Frederick, Louis turned his back 
and said indifferently, "You can go when you 

Charlottenburg, August 14, 1750. 

This is the fact of the matter, my dear child. 
The King of Prussia is making me his chamberlain, 


and giving me one of his orders and a pension of 
twenty thousand francs, and will settle one of four 
thousand on you for life if you will come and keep 
house for me in Berlin, as you do in Paris. You 
had a very pleasant life at Landau with your hus- 
band: I promise you that Berlin is worth many 
Landaus, and has much better operas. Consider 
the matter: consult your feelings. You may reply 
that the King of Prussia must be singularly fond of 
verses. It is true that he is a purely French writer 
who happened to be born in Berlin. On considera- 
tion, he has come to the conclusion that I shall be 
of more use to him than d'Arnaud. I have forgiven 
the gay little rhymes which his Prussian Majesty 
wrote for my young pupil, in which he spoke of him 
as the rising sun, extremely brilliant : and of me as 
the setting sun, exceedingly feeble. He still some- 
times scratches with one hand, while he caresses 
with the other: but, so near him, I am not afraid. 
If you consent, he will have both rising and setting 
at his side, and in his high noon will be writing prose 
and verse to his heart's content, now he has no 
more battles on hand. I have but a short time to 
live. Perhaps it will be pleasanter to die here at 
Potsdam, in his fashion, than as an ordinary citizen 
in Paris. You can go back there afterwards with 
your four thousand francs pension. If these pro- 
positions meet your views, you must pack your 


boxes in the spring: and, at the end of the autumn, 
I shall make a pilgrimage to Italy to see St. 
Peter's at Rome, the Pope, the Venus of Medici, 
and the buried city. It always lay heavy on my 
conscience to die without having seen Italy. We 
will rejoin each other in May. I have four verses 
by the King of Prussia for His Holiness. It will 
be very entertaining to take to the Pope four 
French verses written by a German heretic, and to 
bring back indulgences to Potsdam. You will see 
he treats Popes much better than pretty women. 
He wiU never write sonnets to you : but you would 
have excellent company here and a good house. 
First of all, it is essential that the King, my master, 
should consent. I believe he will be perfectly in- 
different. It matters little to a King of France 
where the most useless of his twenty-two or twenty- 
three million of subjects spends his life: but it would 
be dreadful to live without you. 



To Mme. de Fontaine 

[Mme. de Fontaine, Voltaire's younger niece, had 
been married to M. de Fontaine in 1738. 

" I can be much more useful to your brother. " 


This was the Abbe Mignot— fat, good-natured, 

Mahomet' has put me on such good terms with 
the Pope." Voltaire, in a very astute letter, had 
asked and obtained permission of His Holiness to 
lay "a work against the founder of a false religion 
at the feet of the chief of the true": and beheld 
himself, with much cynical enjoyment, the protege 
of Rome. 

"/ shall be acting in 'Rome Sauvee' at Berlin." 
Rome Sauvee, written in a fortnight at Luneville 
to outvie the Catilina of Crebillon, — dismal old 
rival playwright, — had been first performed before 
a distinguished audience at Voltaire's house in 
Paris, just before he left for Prussia. At the second 
performance he had taken, most successfully, the 
part of Cicero.] 

Berlin, September 23, 1750. 

When you set about it, my dear niece, you write 
charming letters, and prove yourself one of the 
most amiable women in the world. You add to 
my regrets, and make me feel the extent of my 
losses. I never lacked delightful society when I 
was in yours. However, I hope even misfortunes 
may be turned to account. I can be much more 
useful to your brother here than in Paris. Perhaps 
a heretic King will protect a Catholic preacher. 


All roads lead to Rome, and since Mahomet has 
put me on such good terms with the Pope, I do not 
despair of a Huguenot doing something for the 
benefit of a Carmelite. 

When I say, my dear niece, that all roads lead 
to Rome, I do not mean that they will lead me 
there. I was wild to see Rome and our present 
good Pope: but you and your sister attract me 
back to France : I sacrifice the Holy Father to you. 
I wish I could also sacrifice the King of Prussia, 
but that is impossible, He is as amiable as are 
you yourselves ; he is a king, but his passion for me 
is of sixteen years' standing: he has turned my 
head. I had the audacity to think that nature 
made me for him ; I found that there is so remark- 
able a conformity in our tastes that I forgot he was 
the lord of half Germany, and that the other half 
trembled at his name, that he had won five battles, 
that he was the finest general in Europe, and had 
about him great monsters of heroes six feet high. 
All that would, indeed, have made me fly a thou- 
sand miles from him : but the philosopher humanised 
the monarch, and I know him only as a great man, 
good and kindly. Everybody taunts me with his 
having written verses for d'Arnaud — which are 
certainly not among his best: but you must re- 
member that four hundred miles from Paris it is 
very difficult to judge if a person who has been 


recommended to you is, or is not, worthy; that, 
anyhow, verses, ill or well applied, prove that the 
conqueror of Austria loves literature; and I love 
him with all my heart. Besides, d'Arnaud is a 
good sort of person who, now and again, does light 
on some pretty lines. He has taste : he is improv- 
ing; and if he does not improve — well, it is no great 
matter. In a word, that little slight the King of 
Prussia put on me does not prevent him being the 
must agreeable and remarkable of men. 

The climate here is not so rigorous as people 
think. You Parisians talk as if I were in Lapland : 
let me inform you that we have had a summer quite 
as hot as yours, that we have enjoyed good peaches 
and grapes, and that you really have no business 
to give yourself such airs of superiority on the 
strength of two or three extra degrees of sunshine. 

You will see Mahomet acted at my house in 
Paris: but I shall be acting in Rome Sauvee at 
Berlin — the hoarsest old Cicero you ever heard. 
Further, my dear child, we must look to our diges- 
tions: that is the main point. My health is very 
much as it was in Paris : when I have the colic, I 
would see further all the kings of the earth. I have 
given up the grand suppers, and am a little the 
better. I am under a great obligation to the King 
of Prussia: he sets me an example of temperance. 
What ! said I to myself, here is a king born a gour- 


mand, who sits at table and eats nothing, and yet 
is excellent company; while I give myself indiges- 
tion like a fool! How I pity you, changing your 
diet of asses' milk for the waters of Forges and peck- 
ing like a sparrow, and, with it all, never well! 
Compensate yourself: there are other pleasures. 

Goodbye : my compliments to everyone. I hope 
to embrace you in November. I am writing to 
your sister: but please tell her I shall love her all 
my life, even better than I do my new master. 



To Mme. Denis 

Potsdam, October 13, 1750. 

Behold us in retreat at Potsdam! The excite- 
ment of the fetes is over, and my soul is relieved. 
I am not sorry to be here with a king who has 
neither court nor cabinet. It is true Potsdam is 
full of the moustaches and helmets of grenadiers : 
thank God, I do not see them. I work peacefully 
in my rooms, to the accompaniment of the drum. 
I have given up the royal dinners : there were too 
many generals and princes. I could not get used 
to being always opposite a king in state, and to 


talking in public. I sup with him, and a very 
small party. The supper is shorter, gayer, and 
healthier. I should die at the end of three months 
of boredom and indigestion if I had to dine every 
day with a king in state. 

I have been handed over, my dear, with all due 
formalities, to the King of Prussia. The marriage 
is accomplished: will it be happy? I do not know 
in the least: yet I cannot prevent myself saying, 
Yes. After coquetting for so many years, marriage 
was the necessary end. My heart beat hard even 
at the altar. I fully intend to come this winter 
and give you an account of myself, and perhaps 
bring you back with me. There is no further ques- 
tion of my trip to Italy; I gladly give up for you the 
Holy Father and the buried city: perhaps I ought 
also to have sacrificed Potsdam. Who would have 
guessed, seven or eight months ago, when I was 
making every arrangement to live with you in Paris, 
that I should settle three hundred miles away in 
someone else's house? and that someone else a 
master. He has solemnly sworn that I shall not 
repent it: he has included you, my dear child, in 
a sort of contract he signed which I will bring 
with me: but do you intend to earn your dowry 
of four thousand francs? 

I am much afraid you will be like Mme. de Rot- 
temberg, who always preferred the operas of Paris 


to those of Berlin. Oh, destiny! destiny! how you 
rule all things and dispose of poor humanity. 

It is rather amusing that the same literary men 
in Paris, who longed to exterminate me, are now 
calling out against my absence — as desertion. They 
are sorry to have lost their victim. I was indeed 
wrong to leave you: my heart tells me so daily, 
more often than you think: but I have done very 
well to escape those gentry. 

Goodbye — with regrets and affection. 


To Mme. Denis 

[" Prince Henry is a most amiable man. " Prince 
Henry of Prussia, brother of King Frederick. 

"Mme. Tyrconnel" was the wife of the French 
ambassador to Berlin, Lord Tyrconnel, who was 
an Irishman, famous for his good suppers. 

"Isaac d'Argens," a witty and profligate French 
marquis, formerly a guest at King Frederick's 

" Maupertuis, " President of the Berlin Academy, 
well known as a very self-satisfied and pompous 
geometrician, soon to be better known by his 
famous quarrel with Voltaire and to be made 


eternally ridiculous as the Akakia of Voltaire's 
cutting Diatribe. He had taught Mme. du 
Chatelet mathematics and been a visitor at Cirey: 
and already, in October, 1750, had had a tiff with 
Voltaire over a vacant chair in the Berlin Academy 
— Voltaire winning the chair for his protege, Mau- 
pertuis was left more than "a little" jealous. 

"A man who is only too lively: La Mettrie" — a 
wild free-thinker and a French doctor of medicine. 
His book was entitled The Man-Machine, and 
proved, entirely to his own satisfaction, the material 
nature of the soul.] 

Potsdam, November 6, 1750. 

Paris has learnt, then, my dear, that we have 
played the Death of Ccssar at Potsdam, that Prince 
Henry is a most amiable man, a good actor, with 
no accent, and very pleasant : and that everything 
here is exceedingly agreeable. Quite true . . . 
but . . . the King's suppers are delicious, the 
conversation clever, witty, informing: perfect lib- 
erty prevails: he is the soul of everything: no bad 
temper, not a cloud, or, at least, not a storm. My 
life is free and busy; but . . . but . . . operas, 
comedies, fetes, suppers at Sans Souci, military 
manoeuvres, concerts, study, reading; but . . . 
but . . . the city of Berlin, huge, better opened 
up than Paris, palaces, theatres, affable queens, 
charming princesses, beautiful maids-of-honour, 


the house of Mme. Tyrconnel always full, some- 
times too full ; but . . . but, my dear child, the 
weather begins to be cold and frosty. 

I am in the mood for Buts, so I will add: But it 
is impossible for me to get away before December 
15th. You may be sure that I am dying to see 
you, embrace you, and talk to you. My longing to 
go to Italy is not nearly so strong as my desire to 
return to you: but, my dear, give me one more 
month, ask M. d'Argental to grant me this favour: 
for I always tell the King of Prussia that, though 
I am his chamberlain, I belong not the less to you 
and to M. d'Argental. But is it true our Isaac 
d'Argens has gone to bury himself at Monaco, with 
his wife who is an artist? That seems to be a 
little foolish — or extremely philosophical. He 
would do better to come here and add to our colony. 

Maupertuis' energies are not very pleasing: he 
takes my measure most rigidly with his mathe- 
matical implements. They say a little jealousy 
creeps into his problems. But to make up there is 
a man here who is only too lively: La Mettrie. 

His ideas are perfect fireworks — in fact, sky- 
rockets. His noise is very amusing for the first 
quarter of an hour, and mortally wearisome after- 
wards. He has just written (without knowing it) 
a vile book printed at Potsdam, in which he pro- 
scribes virtue and repentance, praises vice, and 


invites the reader to all sorts of wickedness — with- 
out any evil intention. The book contains not 
half a page of sense, and a thousand flashes of light 
— lightnings in the dark. Sensible people have 
pointed out to him the enormity of his immorality. 
He was wholly astonished: he had not the least 
idea of the nature of what he had written : he is 
always ready to contradict himself the next day, 
if they like. The Lord preserve me from having 
him as my doctor! he would give me corrosive sub- 
limate instead of rhubarb, most innocently, and 
then roar with laughter. This remarkable physi- 
cian is reader to the King : and what is still richer, 
is now reading him a History of the Church. He 
skips hundreds of pages, and there are places 
when monarch and reader nearly kill themselves 
with laughing. 

Goodbye, my dear child: they want to play 
Rome Sauvee in Paris, do they? but . . . but 
. . . Goodbye. My warmest love to you. 



To Mme. Denis 

[Baculard d'Arnaud, who had had his head 
turned by the favours of King Frederick, in 1750 


allied himself with Freron — journalist of Paris and 
bitter enemy of Voltaire — to write against him. 
Voltaire retaliated by obtaining from Frederick 
d'Arnaud's dismissal from Potsdam. But the vic- 
tory was a cause for reflection rather than for 

" There has not been so terrible a fall since ' Beli- 
saire.'" The once popular, and now forgotten, 
political novel by Marmontel contained a too dar- 
ing chapter on toleration, which earned the fury 
and condemnation of the Sorbonne (see Letter 
LXV, "On the Jesuits and Catherine the Great"). 
Marmontel owed his first start in life and the 
profession of letters to Voltaire: who always re- 
mained his friend and too generous admirer.] 

November 24, 1750. 

The rising sun has set. Poor d'Arnaud was 
mortally bored here seeing neither King nor ac- 
tress — nor anything except bayonets in front of his 
house. He presumed on his credit by having his 
comedy, the Mauvais Riche, played at Charlotten- 
burg : but pieces taken from the New Testament do 
not succeed here: it was badly received. . . . 
All this, added to a little annoyance in seeing me, 
the setting sun, passably well treated, decided him 
to ask, regretfully, for leave of absence. The King 


sharply ordered him to go in twenty-four hours, 
and, kings always being so busy, forgot to pay his 
travelling expenses. My dear, my triumph sad- 
dens me — it makes me reflect deeply on the perils 
of greatness. This d'Arnaud had one of the most 
delightful sinecures in the kingdom. He was boy- 
poet to the King, and his Prussian Majesty had 
written most complimentary little verses to him. 
There has not been so terrible a fall since Belisaire. 
What a treatment for the monarch to mete to one 
of his two suns. ... He palavers me more 
than ever: but . . . goodbye: goodbye: I long 
to see you. 


To King Frederick 

[At the end of 1750, a quarrel with Hirsch, a Jew 
money lender of Berlin, had robbed Voltaire of the 
royal favour. A reconciliation followed: and Vol- 
taire was once more restored to his post of literary 
adviser to the King. The following is a specimen 
of hundreds of notes which passed between them 
when they were both at Potsdam, separated only 
by a few rooms.] 


Potsdam, August, 1751. 

Sire, I return your Majesty the first volume: I 
am not the person who has spilled the ink all over 
it. Just a word on the feebleness of the human 
intelligence I I re-wrote to-day, in five different 
forms, a little passage of the Henriade, without 
being able to turn it as I did a month ago. What 
does that prove ? That one's powers are never the 
same; that one never has exactly the same idea 
twice in one's life; that one must always be ready 
to seize the right moment. What a devil of a pro- 
fession! but it has its charms: and a busy solitude 
is, I think, the happiest life of all. My poor ex- 
hausted muse humbly kisses the feet and wings of 


To Mme. Denis 

["He is imploring me to get M. Richelieu to ob- 
tain a permit for him. " La Mettrie had been ban- 
ished from France for his writings: and a permit 
was necessary to enable him to return. 

" You will take me for M. Jourdain, " who is of 
course the immortal hero of Moliere's Bourgeois 


Berlin, September i, 1751. 

I have just time, my dear, to send you a fresh 
packet of letters. You will find in it one from La 
Mettrie to the Marechal de Richelieu, asking his 
good offices. Reader though he be to the King of 
Prussia, he is dying to return to France. This 
cheerful soul, supposed to do nothing but laugh, 
cries like a child at having to be here. He is im- 
ploring me to get M. Richelieu to obtain a permit 
for him. It is certainly a fact that one must never 
judge by appearances. 

La Mettrie, in his writings, boasts of his delight 
at being near a great king, who sometimes reads his 
verses: in private, he weeps with me. He is ready 
to go back on foot : but as for me ! . . . what am 
/ here for? I am going to astonish you. 

This La Mettrie is a person of no importance, 
and chats familiarly with the King after their read- 
ings. He tells me much in confidence ; and swears 
that, talking to the King a few days ago of the so- 
called favour extended to me and the little jealousy 
it excites, the King replied, "I shall want him a 
year longer, at the outside: one squeezes the 
orange and throws away the peel. " 

I repeated these charming words to myself: I 
redoubled my questions : La Mettrie redoubled his 
assertions. Would you believe it ? ought I to be- 
lieve it ? is it possible ? What ! after sixteen years 


of kindnesses, promises, protestations: after the 
letter which he desired that you should keep as an 
inviolable pledge of his word ! And at a time, if you 
please, at a time when I am sacrificing everything 
to serve him, when I not only correct his works, 
but write in the margin, a. propos of any little 
faults I detect, reflections on our language which 
are a lesson in the arts of poesy and rhetoric : hav- 
ing, as my sole aim, to assist his talent, enlighten 
him and put him in a position to do without my 

I certainly took both pride and pleasure in cul- 
tivating his genius: everything contributed to my 
illusion. A King who has gained battles and pro- 
vinces, a King of the North who wrote verses in 
our language — a King whose favour I did not seek, 
and who said he was devoted to me: why should 
he have made so many advances? It is beyond 
me: I cannot understand it. I have done my best 
not to believe La Mettrie. 

All the same — I am not sure. In re-reading his 
verses I came across an Epistle to a painter named 
Pesne: in which he alludes to the "dear Pesne, " 
whose "brush places him among the gods " : and 
this Pesne is a man he never looks at. However, 
this dear Pesne is a god. He could well say as 
much of me : it is not to say very much. Perhaps 
everything he writes is inspired by his mind, 


and his heart is far from it. Perhaps all those 
letters wherein he overwhelms me with warm 
and most touching assurances of kindness really 
mean nothing at all. 

I am giving you terrible weapons to use against 
me. You will justly blame me for having yielded 
to his blandishments. You will take me for M. 
Jourdain, who said, "Can I refuse anything to a 
court gentleman who calls me his dear friend?" 
Still, I shall always reply, "He is a most amiable 
monarch. " 

You can easily fancy what reflections, what 
regrets, what difficulties, and, since I must own it, 
what grief the words of La Mettrie have brought 
upon me. You will say, Come away! But I am 
in no position to come away. What I have begun, 
I must finish — and I have two editions on hand 
and engagements for several months ahead. I am 
encompassed on all sides. What is to be done? 
Ignore that La Mettrie ever told me, confide in you 
alone, forget all about it, wait? You will most 
certainly be my consolation. I shall never have 
to say of you, "She deceived me, vowing she 
loved me." Were you a queen, you would be 

Tell me your opinion, I beg you, in detail 
by the first courier despatched to Lord Tyr- 

To Mme. Denis 

["His secretary, Darget" — reserved, discreet, and 
trustworthy. In November, 1750, Voltaire had 
written and told Mme. Denis that when Darget 
lost his wife King Frederick had written him a 
touching letter of sympathy: and, the same day, 
made a shameful epigram upon her. In the affair 
with Hirsch, the money lender, Darget had pleaded 
Voltaire's case with angry Frederick: and he was 
often the medium of letters and messages between 
the King and his guest.. 

" I have reconciled him (d'Argens) with Algarotti. " 
The Marquis d'Argens (see Letter XXXIII, "The 
Little Rift within the Lute"). 

Algarotti was an agreeable Italian who had been 
a visitor at Cirey. He had written a book called 
Newtonianism for Ladies, which had been com- 
pletely eclipsed by Voltaire and Mme. du Chatelet's 
Elements of Newton's Philosophy.] 

Potsdam, October 29, 1 751. 

My dear plenipotentiary, I am much afraid that 
my letters will not go via Lord Tyrconnel much 
longer. He has taken it into his head to burst 

From the portrait by Graf 


a large blood-vessel in his chest. It is the 
broadest and strongest chest imaginable, but 
the enemy has a footing, and the worst is to be 

I am always dreaming of that peel of an orange: 
I try not to believe it, but I am afraid of being 
like deceived husbands, who are always forc- 
ing themselves to think their wives are faith- 
ful. The poor wretches feel at the bottom of 
their hearts something that warns them of their 

What I am very sure of is that my gracious mas- 
ter has honoured me with a very sharp bite of his 
teeth in the Memoirs he has written of his reign 
since 1740. There are several epigrams in his 
verses against the Emperor and the King of Poland. 
Well and good : a king who writes epigrams against 
kings will naturally write them on his ministers : 
but he should spare the nobodies. 

You must know that his Majesty, in his after- 
dinner stories, has insinuated a number of little 
things about his secretary, Darget, at which the 
secretary is horrified. He makes him play a very 
odd role in his poem, the Palladium: and the poem 
is in print. It is true, there are very few copies to 
be had. 

What shall I say? That there is no need to be 
inconsolable if the great love the nobodies though 


they laugh at them? But suppose they laugh at 
them and do not love them — what then? We 
must laugh in our turn, in our sleeves, and leave 
them not the less. I must have a little time to 
remove the money I have invested in the funds here. 
I shall devote this time to work and patience : and 
the rest of my life to you. 

I am much pleased at the return of brother Isaac 
d'Argens. He was a little uproarious at first, but 
now he has put himself in tune with the rest of the 
orchestra. I have reconciled him with Algarotti. 
We live like brothers : they come to my room, which 
I hardly ever leave: from there we go to sup with 
the King, and sometimes are gay enough. The 
man who fell from a steeple, and, finding his passage 
through the air soft, said, Good! provided it lasts, 
is much as I am. 

Goodbye, my dear plenipotentiary: how I wish 
I could fall on to the top of my house in Paris ! 



To Mme. Denis 

[_" I never write to you now, my dear, except by a 
special courier," because matters had become so 


strained between the King and Voltaire that the 
King intercepted and read his guest's letters. 

"La Mettrie, when he was at the point of death." 
On November 11, 175 1, La Mettrie, having de- 
voured a whole pate (of eagle, pork, pheasant, 
and ginger!) at one of Lord Tyrconnel's too 
excellent suppers, died of a violent indigestion 
— "the patient," as Voltaire said, "killing the 
doctor. " 

He never promised any province to Chazot, " who 
was a Major, a Frenchman, and a flute player. 
The fact that he had saved Frederick's life at the 
battle of Mollwitz did not prevent his experiencing 
the fickleness of royal favour. 

" This chamberlain s key was simply a gift . . . 
my cross is a toy. " Part of Frederick's bribe to 
Voltaire to come and live in Prussia had been the 
post of chamberlain and the cross and ribbon of the 
Prussian Order of Merit.] 

Potsdam, December 24, 1751. 

I never write to you now, my dear, except by a 
special courier; and for a good reason. He will 
give you six complete proofs of the Century of 
Louis XI V corrected in my handwriting. No 
permit to print, if you please ! Everybody would 
make game of me. A permit is nothing but a 
command to flatter, sealed with the yellow seal. 


Nothing but a permit and official approval are 
needed to disparage my work. 

I have made my court only to truth, and dedi- 
cate the book to her alone. The approbation I 
want is that of honest men and disinterested 

I should like to have asked La Mettrie, when he 
was at the point of death, more about that peel 
of an orange. That good soul, just about to appear 
before God, would never have lied. There is a 
great appearance that he spoke the truth. He was 
the maddest of men, but the most frank. The 
King informed himself exactly of the manner of 
his death — if he dispensed with all religious forms 
and counsels : and at last was fully convinced that 
this gourmand died as a good philosopher. "I 
am glad of it," said the King to us, "for the 
repose of his soul": we all laughed, the King 

He told me yesterday, in front of d'Argens, that 
he would give a province to have me with him: 
that does not look like the peel of an orange. Appar- 
ently, he never promised any province to Chazot. 
I am perfectly sure he will come back no more. 
He is very ill-content : and, besides, has pleasanter 
business on hand. Leave me to arrange mine. Is 
it possible Paris cries out on me, and takes me for a 
deserter, gone to serve in Prussia? I repeat once 


more, this chamberlain's key, which I never wear, 
was simply a gift : I have taken no vow: my cross is 
a toy, and I prefer my writing desk: in a word, I am 
no naturalised Vandal, and I venture to believe 
that those who read the Century of Louis XIV will 
see that I am a Frenchman. It is really odd that 
one cannot be the recipient of a worthless honour 
from a King of Prussia, who loves literature, with- 
out bringing one's compatriots about one's ears! 
I want to come back much more than those who 
forced me to go want my return : you know I shall 
not return for them. 

From a distance, one cannot see clearly. I re- 
ceive letters from monks who would like to leave 
their monastery and live near the King of Prussia, 
because they have written four French verses. 
A man I have never seen writes to me, "As you are 
the friend of the King of Prussia, kindly make my 
fortune. " Another sends me a bundle of Reflec- 
tions, and informs me he has found the philo- 
sopher's stone and will only confide the secret to 
His Majesty. I returned him his packet, and told 
him that the King himself is the possessor of the 
philosopher's stone. Others, who were absolutely 
indifferent to me when I was with them, tenderly 
reproach me with having abandoned my friends. 
My dear child, I have nothing in the world but 
your letters to cheer and comfort me. 


To M. Bagieu 

[M. Bagieu was Surgeon-in-Chief to the body- 
guard of the King of France and the author of 
several works on surgery. 

When Voltaire turns aside, even from one of the 
most dramatic phases in his life, to speak of his 
health, it is always worth while to follow him. 
Constitutionally feeble and continually ailing as 
he was, the mind so triumphed over the sickly 
body that it was never with him on any occasion 
"the impediment to great enterprises" most men 
would have allowed it to be. 

" The Suitors" — Les Plaideurs, Racine's satirical 
comedy against lawyers.] 

'■ Potsdam, April 10, 1752. 

Nothing, my dear sir, has ever so deeply touched 
me as the letter which you have so kindly and 
spontaneously written to me, the interest you mani- 
fest in a condition of which particulars have not 
been furnished to you, and the help you tender me 
with so much good will. The hope of finding in 
Paris hearts as compassionate as yours and men at 
once thus worthy of their profession and superior 


to it quickens my desire to take the journey thither 
and makes my life of more value to me. 

I owe a great deal to Mme. Denis for having 
claimed your attention on my behalf. Certainly, 
such thoughtful people are only to be found in 
France : just as your art attains perfection in France 
alone. Mine is a small affair. I never set out to 
do more than amuse people: and some are very 
far from thanking me. You are busy giving them 
help in their need. I have always looked on your 
profession as one of those which did most honour 
to the age of Louis XIV: and I have spoken of it 
to that effect in my history of that century: but 
I have never thought more highly of it than I do 
now. Mme. de Pimbesche in the Suitors learnt to 
plead as a barrister — by pleading — and, in this 
sense, I have exhaustively studied medicine. I 
have read Sydenham, Freind, Boerhaave. I know 
the art must be largely a matter of conjecture, that 
few temperaments are alike, and that the first 
aphorism of Hippocrates, Experientia fallax, judi- 
cium difficile, is the finest and truest of all. 

I have come to the conclusion that each man 
must be his own doctor: that he must live by rule, 
now and again assist nature without forcing her: 
above all, that he must know how to suffer, grow 
old, and die. 

The King of Prussia, who has made peace after 


his five victories and is now reforming laws and 
embellishing his country (having finished writing 
its history), condescends sometimes to very pretty 
verse, and has addressed an Ode to me on this grim 
necessity to which we must all submit. This work 
and your letter have done more for me than all the 
physicians on earth. I ought not to complain of 
my fate. I have lived to be fifty-eight years old, 
with a very feeble body, and have seen the 
most robust die in the flower of their age. If you 
had ever met Lord Tyrconnel and La Mettrie you 
would be astounded that I should survive them: 
care has saved me. It is true that I have lost all 
my teeth in consequence of a malady with which I 
was born: everyone has within him, from the first 
moment of his life, the cause of his death. We 
must live with the foe till he kills us. Demouret's 
remedy does not suit me: it is only of service in 
cases of pronounced occasional scurvy, and none at 
all where the blood is affected and the organs have 
lost their vigour and suppleness. The waters of 
Breges, Padua, or Ischia might do me good for a 
time : but I am far from sure if it is not better to 
suffer in peace, by one's own fireside, and diet one- 
self, than to go so far in search of a cure which is 
both uncertain and short-lived. My manner of life 
with the King of Prussia is precisely suited to an 
invalid — perfect liberty, without the slightest 


constraint, a light and cheerful supper. . . . 
Deus nobis hcec otia fecit. He makes me as 
happy as an invalid can be : and your interest in 
my well-being adds to the alleviations of my lot. 
Pray look upon me, sir, as a friend whom you made 
across four hundred miles of space. I trust this 
summer to be able to come and assure you person- 
ally with what sincere regard I am yours always, 


To Mme. Denis 

[The occasion of the quarrel with Maupertuis 
(see Letter XXXIII, "The Little Rift within the 
Lute") is sufficiently explained by Voltaire in this 
letter. It need only be added that Koenig — a dull 
man and a brilliant mathematician — had been 
Mme. du Chatelet's mathematical tutor and a 
visitor at Cirey. 

("La Beaumelle . . . has prepared some 
scandalous 'Notes' to my 'Century of Louis XIV 
(see Letter LI, "On the Advantages of Civilisation 
and Literature").] 

July 24, 1752. 

You and your friends are perfectly right to urge 
my return, but you have not always done so by 


special messengers: and what goes through the 
post is soon known. If this were the only draw- 
back to absence, it would be sufficient to prevent 
one from ever leaving one's family and friends: 
but there are so many others ! The postal system 
is all very well for letters of exchange — but not for 
a communion of hearts : those, when we are parted, 
we dare open no more. 

The greatest of consolations is thus debarred us: 
I shall only write to you in future, my dear child, 
through reliable channels: which are few. These 
are my circumstances: Maupertuis has carefully 
spread the report that I think the King's writings 
very bad: he accuses me of conspiring against a 
very dangerous power — self-love: he gently insin- 
uates that, when the King sent me his verses to 
correct, I said, "Will he never stop giving me his 
dirty linen to wash?" He has whispered this 
extraordinary story in the ears of ten or a dozen 
people, vowing each of them to secrecy. At last 
I am beginning to think the King was one of his 
confidants. I suspect, but cannot prove it. This 
is not a very pleasant situation: and this is not all. 

At the end of last year a young man, named La 
Beaumelle, arrived here. He is, I think, a Gene- 
van, and was sent back here from Copenhagen, 
where he was something between a wit and a 
preacher. He is the author of a book called 


My Thoughts, in which he has given his opinion 
freely on all the powers in Europe. Maupertuis, 
with his usual good nature and, of course, not the 
least maliciously, persuades this young man that 
I have spoken ill of himself and his book to his 
Majesty, and have thereby prevented his entering 
the royal service. So La Beaumelle, to repair the 
harm I am supposed to have done to his career, 
has prepared some scandalous Notes to my 
Century of Louis XIV which he is about to print — 
I know not where. Those who have seen these fine 
notes say they contain as many blunders as words. 

As to the quarrel between Maupertuis and 
"Koenig, here are the facts : 

Koenig has fallen in love with a geometrical 
problem, as a paladin with a lady. Last year he 
travelled from the Hague to Berlin expressly to 
confer with Maupertuis on an algebraic formula 
and on a law of nature, which would not interest 
you in the least. He showed him a couple of 
letters from an old philosopher of the last century, 
named Leibnitz, who would interest you no better: 
and made it clear that Leibnitz, in dealing with 
this same law, had totally disagreed with Mau- 
pertuis. Maupertuis, who is much more engaged 
in court intrigues — or what he takes to be such — 
than geometrical truths, did not even read Leib- 
nitz's letters. 


The Hague professor demanded permission to 
ventilate his theories in the Leipsic papers : having 
it, he refuted therein, with the most exquisite 
politeness, the opinion of Maupertuis, quoting 
Leibnitz as his authority and printing passages 
from his works which bore on the dispute. 

Now comes the odd part. 

Maupertuis, having looked through and misread 
the Leipsic papers and the quotations from Leib- 
nitz, gets it into his head that Leibnitz was of his 
opinion, and that Koenig had forged the letters to 
deprive him (Maupertuis) of the honour and glory 
of having originated — a blunder. 

On these extraordinary grounds, he called to- 
gether the resident academicians, whose salaries 
he pays: formally denounced Koenig as a forger, 
and had sentence passed on him, without taking a 
vote, and in spite of the opposition of the only 
geometrician who was present. 

He did better still: he did not associate himself 
with the sentence, but wrote a letter to the Acad- 
emy to ask pardon for the culprit, who, being at 
the Hague and so not able to be hanged in Berlin, 
was merely denounced, with all possible moderation, 
as a geometrical rogue and forger. 

This fine judgment is in print. To crown all, our 
judicious president writes two letters to the Prin- 
cess of Orange — Koenig is her librarian — to beg her 


to insist on the enemy's silence, and so rob him — 
condemned and branded as he is — of the right to 
defend his honour. 

These details only reached my solitude yesterday. 

Every day there is something new under the sun. 
Never before, surely, was there such a thing as a 
criminal suit in an academy of sciences! Flight 
from such a country as this is now proved a neces- 

I am quietly putting my affairs in order. My 
warmest love to you. 



To Mme. Denis 

[In the three months which had passed since 
Voltaire's letter to his niece of July 24th, his quar- 
rel with Maupertuis had made rapid progress. 
On September 18th Voltaire had published an 
anonymous pamphlet defending Koenig: and a few 
days later Koenig wrote a convincing Appeal 
on his own behalf. King Frederick, meaning to 
stand by Maupertuis, right or wrong, did not 
even read it, but himself produced that "brochure 
against Koenig, against me" and against everyone 
who had tried to prove Koenig's innocence to which 


this letter alludes, and which was entitled A 

Letter to the Public. 

" 1 have no sceptre, but I have a pen: and I have 
used it to turn Plato into ridicule" in the famous 
Diatribe of Dr. Akakia at the moment still in the 
author's desk.] 

Potsdam, October 15, 1752. 

Here is something unprecedented — inimitable — 
unique. The King of Prussia, without having read 
a word of Koenig's reply, without listening to or 
consulting anybody, has just produced a brochure 
against Koenig, against me, and against everyone 
who has tried to prove the innocence of the un- 
j ustly condemned professor. He treats all Koenig's 
friends as fools, envious, dishonest. A singular 
pamphlet indeed : and a king wrote it ! 

The German journalists, not suspecting that a 
monarch who had won battles could be the author 
of such a work, have spoken of it freely as the effort 
of a schoolboy, perfectly ignorant of his subject. 
However, the brochure has been reprinted at Ber- 
lin with the Prussian eagle, a crown, and a sceptre 
on the title-page. The eagle, the sceptre, and the 
crown are exceedingly surprised to find themselves 
there. Everybody shrugs their shoulders, casts 
down their eyes, and is afraid to say anything. 
Truth is never to be found near a throne: and is 


never farther from it than when the king turns 
author. Coquettes, kings, and poets are accus- 
tomed to be flattered. Frederick is a combination 
of all three. How can truth pierce that triple wall 
of vanity? Maupertuis has not succeeded in being 
Plato, but he wants his royal master to be Diony- 
sius of Syracuse. 

What is most extraordinary in this cruel and 
ridiculous affair is that the King has no liking for 
this Maupertuis, for whose benefit he is employ- 
ing his sceptre and his pen. Plato nearly died of 
mortification at not being invited to certain little 
suppers, which I attended, and where the King 
told us a hundred times that this Plato's mad 
vanity rendered him intolerable. 

He has written prose for him now, as he once 
wrote verses for d'Arnaud — for the pleasure of 
doing it : and for another motive less worthy of a 
philosopher — to annoy me. A true author, you 

But all this is but the most insignificant part of 
what has happened. I too am unfortunately an 
author, and in the opposite camp. I have no 
sceptre, but I have a pen: and I have used it — I 
really do not know how — to turn Plato — with his 
stipendiaries, his predictions, his dissections, and 
his insolent quarrel with Koenig — into ridicule. 
My raillery is quite innocent, but I did not know 


when I wrote it I was laughing at the pastimes of 
the King. The affair is unlucky. I have to deal 
with conceit and with despotic power — two very 
dangerous things. I also have reason to believe 
that my affair with the Duke of Wurtemberg has 
given offence. It was discovered : and I have been 
made to feel it was discovered. . . . 

I am at the moment very wretched and very ill : 
and, to crown all, I have to sup with the King. 
Truly, a feast of Damocles ! I need to be as phi- 
losophical as was the real Plato in the house of 


From Frederick the Great 

[The originals of this letter and of the next one, 
frcm Voltaire, are preserved in the Bibliotheque 
Nationale. Voltaire's is written at the foot of 
his royal host's. Frederick's is evidently dashed 
on to paper in a rage, and the French is very ill 

"After what you have done," that is, in the affair 
of the Diatribe of Dr. Akakia against Maupertuis. 
For this Diatribe, in which Voltaire had attacked 
Maupertuis in one of the most famous satires in 


the world, which, in its mocking wit and the seem- 
ing-innocent gaiety of its remorseless logic, is one 
of the most Voltairean of all Voltaire's works, he 
had obtained the royal permit to publish by a 
trick. He read to Frederick a Defence of Lord 
Bolingbroke — that is, a defence of Bolingbroke's 
Letters on History — which he, Voltaire, had just 
written, gained the King's sanction for its publi- 
cation, and then slipped in front of it, Akakia. 
Thus, printed by his own printers, in his own pri- 
vate printing office at Potsdam, there appeared, 
to the immeasurable but very natural rage of 
King Frederick, this merciless onslaught on his 
friend and president. All things considered, the 
royal letter is not immoderate. Though the 
printer owned everything, Voltaire continued to 
deny everything. His royal host threatened the 
guest with a heavy fine, and for a week stationed a 
sentinel, in true Prussian fashion, outside his door.] 

Your effrontery amazes me after what you have 
done, which is as clear as daylight. You persist 
in it instead of owning yourself guilty: do not 
imagine that you can make people believe that 
black is white; when one takes no notice, it is 
because one prefers to see nothing; but if you carry 
this business any further, I shall have everything 


printed, and the world will see that if your 
works deserve statues, your conduct deserves 

The publisher has been questioned, and has con- 
fessed all. 

Voltaire to Frederick the Great 

Good God', sire, what a position I am in! I 
swear to you on my life — which I will most willingly 
relinquish — that the whole thing is a frightful 
calumny. I implore you to cross-examine all my 
entourage. Surely, you would not condemn me 
without hearing me. I demand justice and death. 

To Mme. Denis 

[In November of this year, 1752, Frederick had 
been able to assure Maupertuis that Akakia had 
been burnt in the royal presence. But there were 
other editions, and in December, Berlin, which 
hated Maupertuis, was reading them and enjoying 
itself as it had never enjoyed itself before. Vol- 
taire was living in Berlin at a friend's house — som- 
brely considering how "to save the peel." 

"It is not possible to say 'I am going to Plombieres' 


in December" — Plombieres being a summer resort 
and no one taking its water-cure in winter.] 

Berlin, December 18, 1752. 

I enclose, my dear, the two contracts from the 
Duke of Wurtemberg: they secure you a little for- 
tune for life. I also enclose my will. Not that 
your prophecy that the King of Prussia would 
worry me to death is going to be fulfilled. I have no 
mind to come to such a foolish end : nature afflicts 
me much more than he can, and it is only prudent 
that I should always have my valise packed and 
my foot in the stirrup, ready to start for that world 
where, happen what may, kings will be of small 

As I do not possess here below a hundred and 
fifty thousand soldiers, I cannot pretend to make 
war. My only plan is to desert honourably, to 
take care of my health, to see you again, and for- 
get this three years' nightmare. I am very well 
aware that the orange has been squeezed: now we 
must consider how to save the peel. I am com- 
piling, for my instruction, a little Dictionary for 
the Use of Kings. 

My friend means my slave. 

My dear friend means you are absolutely nothing 
to me. 


By / will make you happy understand I will bear 
you as long as I have need of you. 

Sup with me to-night means / shall make game oj 
you this evening. 

The dictionary might be long: quite an article 
for the Encyclopaedia. 

Seriously, all this weighs on my heart. Can 
what I have seen be true? To take pleasure in 
making bad blood between those who live together 
with him! To say to a man's face the kindest 
things — and then to write brochures upon him — 
and what brochures ! To drag a man away from 
his own country by the most sacred promises, and 
then to ill-treat him with the blackest malice! 
What contradictions ! And this is he who wrote so 
philosophically: whom I believed to be a philoso- 
pher ! And whom I called the Solomon of the North ! 

You remember that fine letter which never suc- 
ceeded in reassuring you ? You are a philosopher, 
said he, and so am I. On my soul, sir, neither 
the one nor the other of us ! 

My dear child, I shall certainly never believe 
myself to be a philosopher until I am with you and 
my household gods. The difficulty is to get away 
from here. You will remember what I told you in 
my letter of November ist. I can only ask leave 
on the plea of my health. It is not possible to say 
"I am going to Plombieres" in December. 


There is a man named Perrard here: a sort of 
minister of the Gospel and born, like myself, in 
France: he asked permission to go to Paris on busi- 
ness: the King answered that he knew his affairs 
better than he did himself, and that there was no 
need at all for him to go to Paris. 

My dear child, when I think over the details of 
all that is going on here, I come to the conclusion 
that it cannot be true, that it is impossible, that I 
must be mistaken — that such a thing must have 
happened at Syracuse three thousand years ago. 
What is true is that I sincerely love you and that 
you are my only consolation. 



To Frederick the Great 

[On the Christmas Eve of 1752 Voltaire, looking 
out of the window of his Berlin lodgings, beheld a 
crowd watching a bonfire. "I'll bet that's my 
Doctor," said he; and, in fact, Akakia it was. 
That conflagration (which advertised the Diatribe 
to the four corners of Europe) decided its author 
to "desert honourably" as soon as might be. On 
New Year's Day,>753, at three o'clock in the after- 
noon he returned to King Frederick the cross and 


ribbon of the Prussian order bestowed on him and 
the chamberlain's key, and accompanied them by 
the following letter.] 

January i, 1753. 

Sire, urged by the prayers and tears of my family, 
I am compelled to lay my fate at your feet, together 
with the favours and marks of distinction with 
which you have honoured me. Only my grief can 
be as great as the value of all I am renouncing. 
Your Majesty may rest assured that I shall re- 
member nothing but the benefits conferred on me. 
Attached to you for sixteen years by many kind- 
nesses : summoned to your side in my old age : my 
fears of that transplantation, which has cost me 
much, quieted by the most solemn promises: and 
having had the honour of living for two and a half 
years at your side ; it is impossible you should deny 
to me the possession of feelings which have out- 
weighed in my heart the claims of my country, 
my king (who is at once my sovereign and 
benefactor), my family, my friends, and my 

I have lost them all. Nothing remains to me 
but the remembrance of the pleasant days I have 
spent in your retreat at Potsdam. After that, all 
other solitudes will indeed seem melancholy to me. 
It is, moreover, hard to leave at this season of the 


year, especially when one is, as I am, the victim of 
many diseases: and it is harder still to leave you. 
Believe me, that is the only pain I am capable of 
feeling at this moment. The French envoy, who 
has come in as I write this, will bear witness to my 
sorrow, and will answer for me to your Majesty of 
the sentiments I shall always retain. I made you 
my idol: an honest man does not change his 
religion, and sixteen years of a limitless devo- 
tion cannot be destroyed by a single unfortunate 

I flatter myself that out of so much kindness you 
will keep at least some feeling of humanity towards 
me: that is my sole consolation, if consolation I 
may have. 


King Frederick the Great to Voltaire 

[To a moral obtuseness, characteristically Ger- 
man, must be attributed the fact that, after Vol- 
taire's "Farewell" letter of January 1, 1753, the 
royal host did not disdain to use all his royal powers 
to chain his unwilling guest to his side. On March 
1 st Voltaire begged formally for leave of absence to 


go to French Plombieres and drink the waters. 
After a fortnight's silence, Frederick replied that 
the waters of Moravia were quite as good : and then, 
on March 16th, flung on to paper the following 
famous dismissal, which, with some slight differ- 
ences of expression, was printed by his orders in the 
gazettes of Holland and Utrecht, and is still pre- 
served in the archives of Berlin. 

" The volume of poetry which I have confided to 
him" — the free-thinking, and often indecorous, 
poetical effusions of King Frederick, which Voltaire 
had been correcting for him, and which were shortly 
to become all too notorious for both writer and 

March 16, 1753. ] 

He can leave my service when he feels inclined: 
he need not trouble to invent the excuse of the 
waters of Plombieres, but he must have the good- 
ness, before he goes, to return to me the contract 
of his engagement, the key, the cross, and the 
volume of poetry which I have confided to him: 
I could wish that he and Koenig had only attacked 
my works, which I sacrifice willingly to those who 
desire to belittle other people's reputations: I have 
none of the vanity and folly of authors, and the 
cabals of men of letters seem to me the depth of 


From the portrait by Nattier 



Petition to the King of France, through the Comte 
d' Argenson, Minister of War 

[The Comte d' Argenson and his brother, the Mar- 
quis, had been at school with Voltaire, and re- 
mained thereafter his very influential friends. 
It was the Comte d'Argenson who had obtained for 
him the honour of writing the authorised account 
of the royal campaigns, which eventually became 
the History of Louis XV. This petition "to be 
allowed to die in his own country " was not, however, 
accorded to Voltaire. Only a month later d'Ar- 
genson, who is famous for having reorganised the 
French army, was writing in his diary, " Permission 
to re-enter France is refused to M. de Voltaire — to 
please the King of Prussia." By March 26, 1753, 
Voltaire had, however, effected his escape from 
Frederick and Potsdam. On April nth, Frederick 
had practically commanded Freytag, his resident 
at Frankfort, to harry the parting guest when he 
passed through that city: and Freytag — the typical 
German official, literally choked with red tape — 
exceeded his orders in the manner described in 
the following letter. Despite it, it was not 
until the early days of July that Voltaire and 


his niece succeeded in getting away from 

June 28, 1753. 

Sire, M. de Voltaire takes the liberty of inform- 
ing your Majesty that, having worked for two and a 
half years to perfect the King of Prussia's know- 
ledge of French literature, M. de Voltaire respect- 
fully returned to him his key, his ribbon, and his 
pensions: that he has annulled, in writing, the 
agreement his Prussian Majesty made with him, 
promising to return it to him as soon as he can get 
at his papers, to make no further use of it, and 
desiring no other reward than to be allowed to die 
in his own country. He went to Plombieres with 
your Majesty's permission. Mme. Denis preceded 
him to Frankfort, with a passport. 

A person called Dorn, the clerk of M. Freytag, 
who calls himself the King of Prussia's envoy at 
Frankfort, on June 20th arrested Mme. Denis, the 
widow of an officer in his Majesty's service, fur- 
nished with a passport: he then dragged her 
through the streets under an escort of soldiers, and 
without instructions or formalities or the slightest 
pretext of any kind, put her in prison, and had the 
insolence to stay all night in her room. For thirty- 
six hours she was at the point of death, and now — 
June 28th — has not entirely recovered. 

During this time, a merchant named Schmith, 


professing to be a representative of the King of 
Prussia, meted like treatment to M. de Voltaire 
and his secretary, and without any sort of proces- 
verbal took possession of all their effects. The 
next day, Freytag and Schmith informed their 
prisoners that they would have to pay a hundred 
and twenty-eight ecus each day they were detained. 

The pretext for this violence and robbery is an 
orderwhich MM. Freytag and Schmith had received 
from Berlin in May, bidding them demand from 
M. de Voltaire the printed book of French poetry 
written by his Prussian Majesty, which his Prus- 
sian Majesty had given to M. de Voltaire. 

This book being at Hamburg, M. de Voltaire 
had given his word of honour on June 1st not to 
leave Frankfort until the book was returned: and 
M. Freytag, in the name of his master the King, 
affixed his signature to two letters, identical with 
each other, and running as follows : 

"Sir, if the packet which you declare to be at 
Hamburg or Leipsic, and which contains the poet- 
ical work [ceuvre de poeshie) of the King, arrives here 
and the book is given up to me, you can go when 
you like. " 

M. de Voltaire then gave him, as pledges, two 
packets of papers — one literary, and the other deal- 
ing with family affairs : and M. Freytag signed the 
following note: 


"I promise to return to M. de Voltaire these two 
packets, sealed with his seal, as soon as the packet 
containing the poetical work which the King de- 
mands is to hand. " 

The poetical work having arrived on June 18th, 
addressed to M. Freytag, with the box from Ham- 
burg, M. de Voltaire obviously had the right to 
leave on June 20th. It was on June 20th that he, 
his niece, his secretary, and his servants were 
treated as prisoners in the manner herein set forth. 


To the Comte d' Argental 

{The Comte d' Argental (see Letter XXI, "On 
Treachery")- This letter was written when Vol- 
taire was nearing Colmar, where he spent nearly a 
year in hard literary work before settling in Switzer- 

" Mme. de Montaigu," Lady Mary Wortley 
Montagu, the famous letter-writer, who introduced 
inoculation into England from the East in 1717 
(see Letter LX, "On Lady Mary Wortley Mon- 

" The late Queen. " This was Queen Caroline of 
England, wife of George II. ' 


" That Fontenelle would have outlived Mme. 
d'Aumont. " Fontenelle — in Voltaire's own words 
"poet, philosopher, scholar" — the nephew of the 
great Corneille, was known as the author of the 
Plurality of Worlds and for his extraordinary length 
of days. " Fontenelle, " said Voltaire, "was a Nor- 
man, he cheated even nature." He died in 1757, 
being a hundred years old.] 

Near Colmar, October 3, 1753. 

My dear angel, if the Marechale de Duras, who 
looks so very strong-minded, had done as did Mme. 
de Montaigu and the late Queen — if she had been 
courageous enough to give the smallpox to her 
children, you would not be mourning the Duchesse 
d'Aumont to-day. Thirty years ago I declared 
that a tenth part of the nation might thus be saved. 
A few people, grieved by the loss of valuable lives 
from smallpox in the flower of their youth, say, 
"Really, inoculation ought to be tried": and by 
the end of a fortnight they have forgotten alike 
those who have fallen victims to the scourge and 
those who yet will fall. 

Last year, the Bishop of Worcester preached in 
London before the Houses of Parliament in favour 
of inoculation, and proved that it saved, in London 
alone, two thousand lives a year. That was a 


sermon which did much more good than the stuff 
our preachers talk. . . 

I dare not ask you to give my respects ana sym- 
pathy to the Due d'Aumont. Who would have 
thought that Fontenelle would have outlived Mme. 
d'Aumont! But a hundred years and thirty are 
the same before Death's scythe. Our life is a point 
in space — a dream. My life's dream has been a 
perpetual nightmare : it would be very soothing if, 
at the end of it, I could see you : that would be a 
very pleasant light on which to open my eyes . . . . 



To Mme. du Deffand 

[The Marquise du Deffand, wit, letter-writer, 
and saloniere, was one of "those women of brilliant 
talents who" under the old regime "violated all the 
common duties of life and gave very pleasant little 
suppers. " She had visited Voltaire in the Bastille 
in 1726, when he was twenty-seven: he visited her 
when he came to Paris in 1778, when he was eighty- 
three. After she became blind in 1753 he was her 
constant and sympathetic correspondent. Only 
Horace Walpole excelled his devotion as her friend. 


"Mme. de Staal," who had been Mdlle. de Launay, 
and was still companion to the Duchesse du Maine, 
with whom Voltaire had first stayed at Sceaux 
as a brilliant youth of one and twenty (see 
Letter XLIX, "On the Memoirs of Lord Boling- 
broke"). Mme. de Staal recounted, with a satiric 
pen, the gossip of the Maine court to Mme. du 
Deff and in Paris : and has left behind her brilliant 
and bitter Memoirs. 

/ am in receipt of annuities from two poten- 
tates. " These were the Duke of Wurtemberg and 
the Elector Palatine. 

" The conduct of Dionysius of Syracuse" — Freder- 
ick the Great. 

" The Plato of Saint-Malo " — Maupertuis, who 
was a native of that place . . . "his good doctor 
Akakia" — of course Voltaire himself as the author 
of the Diatribe (see Letters XXXIII, "The 
Little Rift within the Lute"; XL and XLI, "The 
Quarrel with Maupertuis"; XLII, "The Storm 
Bursts," and XLIV, "Farewell").] 

Colmar, March 3, 1754. 

Your letter, madam, touched me more deeply 
than you can imagine, and I assure you my eyes 
were wet when I read what had happened to yours. 
I had gathered, from M. de Formont's letter, that 
you were, so to speak, in the dusk but not in com- 


plete darkness. I thought of you as somewhat in 
Mme. de Staal's condition, with the inestimable 
advantage, which she lacks, of freedom, of having 
friends about you who can think and speak as they 
please, and of living in your own house instead 
of being subjected, in a princess's, to restrictions 
which savour of hypocrisy. 

Therefore, dear madam, I only regretted that 
your eyes had lost their beauty: and I was sure you 
were enough of a philosopher to console yourself 
for that: but, if you have lost your sight, I pity 
you very deeply. I do not suggest to you as an 
example M. de S. who, blind at twenty, is always 
lively — if not too lively. I agree with you that 
life is not worth much: we only endure it from 
an almost invincible instinct which nature has 
planted in us: to this instinct she has added the 
bottom of Pandora's box — hope. 

Only when hope is absolutely lacking, or when 
an unbearable depression settles down upon us, do 
we triumph over the natural impulse to hug the 
chains that bind us to life: and gather courage to 
leave an ill-built house which we can never hope to 
repair. Two people in the country where I now 
am have elected to do this. 

One of these two philosophers is a girl of eighteen, 
whose brain had been turned by the Jesuits, and 
who, to rid herself of them, set out for the next 


world. That is a thing / shall not do, or at any rate 
not yet, for I am in receipt of annuities from two 
potentates, and I should be inconsolable if by my 
death I enriched two crowned heads. 

If you, madam, have a pension from the King, 
be exceedingly careful of yourself, eat little, go to 
bed early, and live to be a hundred. 

The conduct of Dionysius of Syracuse is as in- 
comprehensible as himself: he is a strange speci- 
men. I am glad I have been at Syracuse, for I 
assure you there is no place like it on the face of 
the earth. 

The Plato of Saint-Malo, with his flat nose and 
his ridiculous visions, is no less extraordinary: he 
must have been born with real wit and talent, but 
excessive vanity has made him both vicious and 
absurd. Is it not a fearful thing that he should 
have persecuted his good doctor Akakia, who tried 
to cure him of his madness — with emollients ? 

Who in the world, madam, can have told you 
that I am going to be married ? I am a nice person 
to be married ! For six months I have hardly been 
outside my room, and I am in pain ten hours out 
of every twelve. If any doctor knows a nice- 
looking girl, who is quick and clever at medical 
appliances, at fattening chickens and reading aloud, 
I confess I might be tempted : but my warmest and 
sincerest desire is to spend the evening of the 


stormy day called life with you. I have seen you 
in your brilliant morning, and it would be a great 
comfort to me if I could help to comfort you, and 
to converse with you freely in the brief moments 
that remain to us . . . . 



To Mme. du Dejffand 

[Lord Bolingbroke — Henry St. John, Viscount 
Bolingbroke, the famous English statesman, with 
whom Voltaire, as a young man, had stayed both 
in London and at Bolingbroke's French home, La 
Source, near Orleans. It was to Bolingbroke Vol- 
taire had read aloud the Henriade before its pub- 
lication: and to Bolingbroke he had dedicated his 
play Brutus: and his Defence of Lord Boling- 
broke's Letters on History had been the means of 
his obtaining King Frederick's permit to print 
The Diatribe of Dr. Akakia (see Letter XLII, 
"The Storm Bursts"). 

" The Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke . . . the 
abbreviated and confused little book he has left us." 
Les Memoires Secretes de Lord Bolingbroke is the 


title of the French translation, published in 1753, 
of his Letters to Windham. 

"A frightful portrait of Lord Oxford" — Robert 
Harley, Earl of Oxford, Chancellor of the Ex- 
chequer to Queen Anne, was first the friend and 
then the bitter enemy of Bolingbroke, who suc- 
ceeded him as Prime Minister. 

" These cursed ' Annals of the Empire. ' " A popu- 
lar history of Germany from the time of Charle- 
magne, and, as Voltaire himself thought, one of the 
least successful of his works. " The Princess of 
Saxony, " at whose command he wrote them, was 
the charming Duchess of Saxe-Gotha, with whom 
he had corresponded from Cirey, and whom he had 
now recently visited at "her court" at Gotha. 

"The Duchesse du Maine . . . Sceaux" (see 
Letter XLVIII, "On a Friend's Blindness"). 
The Duchesse du Maine, "that living fragment of 
the Grand Epoch, " a brilliant and imperious old 
woman (her only counterpart in English eighteenth- 
century society is Lady Holland), not only enter- 
tained Voltaire at her semi-royal court of Sceaux, 
but had sheltered him in 1747 from the disfavour 
of Louis XV. At Sceaux, he had written (and 
read secretly to his Duchess as she sat up in bed at 
two o'clock in the morning) those little models of 
the short story, Zadig, Scarmentado, Micromegas, 
and Babouc. 


"President Renault" was President of the Cham- 
bre des Enquetes ; had been a friend of Voltaire for 
five and thirty years, and an habitue of the salon 
of Mme. du Deffand, to whom he appeared deeply 
attached until he deserted her society for that of 
Mdlle. de Lespinasse — first her dame de compagnie, 
and then her rival.] 

COLMAR, April 23, 1754. 

I feel very guilty, dear madam, at not having 
answered your last letter. I do not make my bad 
health an excuse : for, although I cannot write with 
my own hand, I could at least have dictated the 
most melancholy things, which, to those who, 
like you, know all the misfortunes of life and are no 
longer deceived by its illusions, are not unaccept- 

I remember that I advised you to go on living 
solely to enrage those who are paying your an- 
nuities. As far as I am concerned, it is the only 
pleasure I have left. When I feel an attack of 
indigestion coming on, I picture two or three princes 
as gainers by my death, take courage out of spite, 
and conspire against them with rhubarb and tem- 

Still, notwithstanding my desire to do them a bad 
turn by living on, I have been very ill. Add to 
that, these cursed Annals of the Empire, which put 


an extinguisher on all imagination and take up all 
my time, and you have the reasons for my idleness. 
I have been working at these stupid things for a 
Princess of Saxony — who deserves something live- 
lier from me. She is a most agreeable royalty, and 
has things much better done than the Duchesse du 
Maine, while her court allows one much more 
liberty than did Sceaux, but, unfortunately, the 
climate is horrible: and just now I care for nothing 
but the sun. You cannot see it, madam, in the 
present state of your eyes : but it is good at least 
to feel warm. The horrible winter we have had 
makes one wretched : and the news that reaches us 
does not improve matters. 

I wish I could send you some trifles to amuse you, 
but the works I am now engaged on are far from 

In London I was an Englishman: and in Ger- 
many a German: with you my chameleon coat 
would soon take on brighter colours — your lively 
imagination would fire my drooping wits. 

I have been reading the Memoirs of Lord Boling- 
broke. It seems to me that he talks better than 
he writes. I declare I find his style as difficult 
of comprehension as his conduct. He draws a 
frightful portrait of Lord Oxford — without adduc- 
ing any proofs. This is the Oxford whom Pope 
calls : 


"A Soul supreme, in each hard instance try'd, 
Above all Pain, all Passion, and all Pride, 
The rage of Pow'r, the blast of public breath, 
The Lust of Lucre, and the dread of Death. " 

Bolingbroke would have employed his leisure 
better if he had written good memoirs on the War 
of the Succession, the Peace of Utrecht, the char- 
acter of Queen Anne, the Duke and Duchess of 
Marlborough, Louis XIV, the Duke of Orleans, and 
the French and English ministers. If he had been 
skilful enough to blend his Apologia with these 
great subjects, he would have made it immortal: 
instead of which it is completely lost in the ab- 
breviated and confused little book he has left us. 

I cannot understand how a man, who appeared 
to take such wide views, should condescend to such 
trivialities. His translator is quite mistaken in 
saying I try to proscribe the study of facts. The 
reproach I bring against Lord Bolingbroke is that 
he has given us too few, and that the few he 
records he smothers in trivialities. However, I 
think his Memoirs will have given you a certain 
amount of pleasure, and as you read them you 
must very often have found yourself on familiar 

Good-bye, madam ; let us try to bear our earthly 
afflictions patiently. Courage is of some use: it 
flatters self-love, it lessens misfortune: but it 


does not give one back one's sight. I always 
most sincerely pity you: your fate touches me 

A thousand compliments to M. de Formont: and 
if you see President Henault, the same to him. 
My warmest respects. 


To Mme. du Deffand 

[" The Annals, short though they are. " Voltaire's 
Annals of the Empire (see Letter XL IX, "On 
the 'Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke' "). 

"/ would much rather you had the' Pucelle'" (see 
Letter XV, "On the ' Pucelle ' and the ' Century of 
Louis XIV"). The Pucelle continued to give 
Voltaire many anxieties. He had rashly lent some 
cantos to Prince Henry of Prussia — which the 
Prince's secretary had copied: and Collini, Vol- 
taire's secretary, had been obliged to hide the dan- 
gerous MS. in his breeches to avoid its discovery 
by Freytag at Frankfort. Now — 1754 — Voltaire 
was fearing the whole would slip into print. 

" Guignon — who is the king of the violin. " There 
was at the French Court a post bearing the title of 


" King of the Violins, " occupied by Guignon till 
1773: when office and title were suppressed. 

"M. d'Alembert . . . can be sure that if I re- 
gard him as the first of our philosophers with wit 
{d' esprit) it is not out of gratitude" (see Letter LV, 
"On the Great Encyclopaedia"). D'Alembert had 
asked Voltaire to contribute the article on "Esprit" 
to the great Encyclopaedia.] 

Colmar, May 19, 1754. 

Do you know Latin, madam? No; that is why 
you ask me if I prefer Pope to Virgil. All modern 
languages are dry, poor, and unmusical in compari- 
son with those of our first masters, the Greeks and 
Romans. We are but the fiddles of a village band. 
Besides, how can I compare Epistles to an Epic 
poem, to the loves of Dido, the burning of Troy, 
to iEneas ' descent into Hades ? 

I think Pope's Essay on Man the finest of didac- 
tic and philosophic poems: but nothing is com- 
parable to Virgil. You know him through 
translations: but it is impossible to translate the 
poets. Can you translate music? I regret, ma- 
dam, that you, with your enlightened taste and 
feeling, cannot read Virgil. I pity you even more 
if you are reading the Annals, short though they 
are. Germany, even reduced to a miniature, is not 
likely to please a French imagination such as yours. 


As you like epic poems, I would much rather you 
had the Pucelle. It is a little longer than the 
Henriade and the subject is livelier. Imagination 
has more play — in serious books in France it is 
generally much too circumscribed. My regard for 
historical truth and religious prejudice clipped my 
wings in the Henriade: they have grown again in 
the Pucelle. Her annals are much more amusing 
than those of the Empire. 

If M. de Formont is still with you, pray remem- 
ber me to him : if he has left, remember me to him 
when you write. I am going to Plombieres, not in 
hopes of recovering my health — those I have quite 
given up — but because my friends are going there 
too. I have been six months at Colmar without 
moving out of my room rand I believe I shall do just 
the same at Paris unless you are there. 

I perceive that, in the long run, there is really 
nothing worth the trouble of leaving the house for. 
Illness has great advantages : it spares one society. 
It is different for you, madam: society is as neces- 
sary to you as a violin to Guignon — who is the 
King of the violin. 

M. d'Alembert is worthy of you : and much too 
good for his generation. He has repeatedly hon- 
oured me far above my deserts, and he can be 
sure, if I regard him as the first of our philosophers 
with wit, it is not out of gratitude. 


I do not often write to you, madam, although 
the next best thing to having a letter from you is 
answering one : but I am overwhelmed with hard 
work, and divide my time between it and the colic. 
I have no leisure — I am always either ill or working. 
That makes life a full one, though not a perfectly 
happy one: but where is happiness to be found? 
/ have not the slightest idea : it is a very nice prob- 
lem to solve. 



To J. J. Rousseau 

[In 1745, when Voltaire was basking in the brief 
sunshine of the favour of Louis XV, he had first 
had dealings with Jean Jacques Rousseau, native 
of Geneva, then music-copier and writer of Court 
divertissements, and, to be, the impassioned senti- 
mentalist of golden eloquence — the author of the 
Social Contract, The New Eloisa, and of the famous, 
infamous Confessions. 

In 1755 he had written a Prize Essay for the 
Academy of Dijon called, by himself, The Dis- 
course on the Origin of Inequality among Men and 


by his friends, The Essay against Civilisation, which 
elaborated his pet theory of the advantages of 
savage over civilised life, and which he sent to Vol- 
taire. Voltaire replied in the following letter; 
which Rousseau presently acknowledged in terms 
of warm friendship. When, two months later, 
Voltaire's soul was appalled by the fearful earth- 
quake of Lisbon, Jean Jacques considered his 
theories proved, arguing that houses could not 
have fallen if there had been no houses to fall, and 
that if men lived like beasts in the open, earth- 
quakes would be robbed of nearly all their terrors : 
to which absurdity — as to Pope's wiser optimism 
in The Essay on Man — Voltaire replied by the 
brilliant and withering mockery of Candide. 

" Les Delices." Les Delices, which still stands, is 
a house near Geneva, with a fine view of the Jura 
and the Alps. Voltaire chose it as being under 
the laws of the Genevan Republic and yet only 
half an hour's ride into France: and called it 
Les Delices "because," he said, "nothing is so 
delightful as to be free and independent. " He had 
been settled there for five months when this letter 
was written : and lived there for about three years, 
until he acquired Ferney. 

"The greatest doctor in Europe" — Dr. Theodore 
Tronchin, who was Voltaire's doctor from 1754 
until Voltaire's death, was a member of a celebrated 


Genevan family and one of the earliest discoverers 
of the value of fresh air, soberness, temperance, and 
chastity. He had the generosity to accept the dis- 
covery of inoculation against smallpox at the hands 
of a woman, and the courage to practise it in the 
teeth of popular prejudice at his fashionable " cure " 
at Geneva, where he preached many other unfash- 
ionable doctrines — especially to women. He was a 
convinced and devout Christian, and no more afraid 
to tell unpalatable truths to Voltaire than to ob- 
scurer patients. Voltaire never wrote or spoke of him 
but in terms of affection, respect, and admiration. 

"Close to your country where you yourself should 
be" — that is, to Geneva: Rousseau was in Paris at 
the time. 

"An ex- Jesuit priest whom I saved from utter 
disgrace" — the Abbe Desfontaines (see Letter 
XXI, "On Treachery"). 

"Of a man yet more contemptible printing my 
' Century of Louis XIV' with notes. " This was La 
Beaumelle, — the protege of Voltaire's Prussian 
enemy, Maupertuis — who had brought out a pi- 
rated edition of Voltaire's Century of Louis XIV 
which actually ran parallel with the author's own 
authorised edition. La Beaumelle's Notes con- 
tained personal insults to Voltaire and to the Royal 
Family of France (see Letter XL, "The Quarrel 
with Maupertuis"). 


"Of a 'Universal History,' supposed to be by 
me. " This was a pirated edition of one of Vol- 
taire's greatest and most free-spoken works, The 
Essay on the Mind and Manners of Nations. It 
was printed by a publisher at the Hague— just at 
the wrong moment; that is, just as Voltaire was 
leaving Prussia: its daring made his return to 
France most dangerous, and so helped to decide 
his residence in Switzerland. 

'A gay trifle I wrote thirty years ago {on the same 
subject which Chapelain was stupid enough to treat 
seriously)" — The Pucelle — the history of Joan of 
Arc. Chapelain was a dull, industrious seven- 
teenth-century writer, who had written Joan's 
story at immense length. His work was a general 
subject of ridicule and had been satirised by 

Les Delices, August 30, 1755. 

I have received, sir, your new book against the 
human species, and I thank you for it. You will 
please people by your manner of telling them the 
truth about themselves, but you will not alter 
them. The horrors of that human society — from 
which in our feebleness and ignorance we expect 
so many consolations — have never been painted 
in more striking colours: no one has ever been so 
witty as you are in trying to turn us into brutes : to 


read your book makes one long to go on all fours. 
Since, however, it is now some sixty years since I 
gave up the practice, I feel that it is unfortunately 
impossible for me to resume it : I leave this natural 
habit to those more fit for it than are you and I. 
Nor can I set sail to discover the aborigines of 
Canada, in the first place because my ill-health ties 
me to the side of the greatest doctor in Europe, and 
I should not find the same professional assistance 
among the Missouris : and secondly because 1 war is 
going on in that country, and the example of the 
civilised nations has made the barbarians almost as 
wicked as we are ourselves. I must confine myself 
to being a peaceful savage in the retreat I have 
chosen — close to your country, where you yourself 
should be. 

I agree with you that science and literature have 
sometimes done a great deal of harm. Tasso's 
enemies made his life a long series of misfortunes : 
Galileo's enemies kept him languishing in prison, 
at seventy years of age, for the crime of understand- 
ing the revolution of the earth: and, what is still 
more shameful, obliged him to forswear his dis- 
covery. Since your friends began the Encyclo- 
paedia, their rivals attack them as deists, atheists 
— even Jansenists. 

If I might venture to include myself among those 
whose works have brought them persecution as 


their sole recompense, I could tell you of men set 
on ruining me from the day I produced my tragedy 
(Edipe: of a perfect library of absurd calumnies 
which have been written against me : of an ex- Jesuit 
priest whom I saved from utter disgrace rewarding 
me by defamatory libels : of a man yet more con- 
temptible printing my Century of Louis XIV with 
Notes in which crass ignorance gave birth to 
the most abominable falsehoods: of yet another, 
who sold to a publisher some chapters of a Uni- 
versal History supposed to be by me: of the pub- 
lisher avaricious enough to print this shapeless 
mass of blunders, wrong dates, mutilated facts and 
names: and, finally, of men sufficiently base and 
craven to assign the production of this farago to 
me. I could show you all society poisoned by this 
class of person — a class unknown to the ancients — 
who, not being able to find any honest occupation 
— be it manual labour or service — and unluckily 
knowing how to read and write, become the brok- 
ers of literature, live on our works, steal our 
manuscripts, falsify them, and sell them. I could 
tell of some loose sheets of a gay trifle which I wrote 
thirty years ago (on the same subject that Chape- 
lain was stupid enough to treat seriously) which 
are in circulation now through the breach of faith 
and the cupidity of those who added their own 
grossness to my badinage and filled in the gaps 


with a dullness only equalled by their malice ; and 
who, finally, after twenty years, are selling every- 
where a manuscript which, in very truth, is theirs 
and worthy of them only. 

I may add, last of all, that someone has stolen 
part of the material I amassed in the public ar- 
chives to use in my History of the War of 1741 when 
I was historiographer of France ; that he sold that 
result of my labours to a bookseller in Paris ; and 
is as set on getting hold of my property as if I were 
dead and he could turn it into money by putting it 
up to auction. I could show you ingratitude, im- 
posture, and rapine pursuing me for forty years to 
the foot of the Alps and the brink of the grave. 
But what conclusion ought I to draw from all these 
misfortunes? This only: that I have no right to 
complain: Pope, Descartes, Bayle, Camoens — a 
hundred others — have been subjected to the same, 
or greater, injustice: and my destiny is that of 
nearly everyone who has loved letters too well. 

Confess, sir, that all these things are, after all, 
but little personal pin-pricks, which society scarcely 
notices. What matter to humankind that a few 
drones steal the honey of a few bees? Literary 
men make a great fuss of their petty quarrels : the 
rest of the world ignores them, or laughs at them. 

They are, perhaps, the least serious of all the 
ills attendant on human life. The thorns insepar- 


able from literature and a modest degree of fame 
are flowers in comparison with the other evils 
which from all time have flooded the world. Nei- 
ther Cicero, Varron, Lucretius, Virgil, or Horace 
had any part in the proscriptions of Marius, Scylla, 
that profligate Antony, or that fool Lepidus; 
while as for that cowardly tyrant, Octavius Caesar 
— servilely entitled Augustus — he only became an 
assassin when he was deprived of the society of men 
of letters. 

Confess that Italy owed none of her troubles to 
Petrarch or to Boccaccio: that Marot's jests were 
not responsible for the massacre of St. Bartholomew: 
or the tragedy of the Cid for the wars of the Fronde. 
Great crimes are always committed by great igno- 
ramuses. What makes, and will always make, this 
world a vale of tears is the insatiable greediness and 
the indomitable pride of men, from Thomas Kouli- 
kan, who did not know how to read, to a custom- 
house officer who can just count. Letters support, 
refine, and comfort the soul : they are serving you, 
sir, at the very moment you decry them: you are 
like Achilles declaiming against fame, and Father 
Malebranche using his brilliant imagination to be- 
little imagination. 

If anyone has a right to complain of letters, I am 
that person, for in all times and in all places they 
have led to my being persecuted: still, we must 


needs love them in spite of the way they are abused 
— as we cling to society, though the wicked spoil 
its pleasantness: as we must love our country, 
though it treats us unjustly: and as we must love 
and serve the Supreme Being, despite the super- 
stition and fanaticism which too often dishonour 
His service. 

M. Chappus tells me your health is very un- 
satisfactory: you must come and recover here in 
your native place, enjoy its freedom, drink (with 
me) the milk of its cows, and browse on its grass. 

I am yours most philosophically and with sin- 
cere esteem. 


To M. Tronchin, of Lyons 

["M. Tronchin of Lyons" was one of the honour- 
able family of which Dr. Theodore Tronchin was 
the most famous member. 

"The Earthquake of Lisbon," on All Saints' Day, 
1755, which destroyed thirty thousand persons in 
six minutes, drew from Voltaire not only the mock- 
ery of Candide, but one of the most beautiful and 
serious of his writings, The Poem on the Disaster of 


Lisbon. The disaster is the subject of many of his 
letters of this period, and profoundly touched his 

"In the best of all possible worlds" — a scornful / 
version of the "Whatever is, is right" of PopeY 
Essay on Man.] 

Les Delices, November 24, 1755. 

This is indeed a cruel piece of natural philoso- 
phy! We shall find it difficult to discover how 
the laws of movement operate in such fearful dis- 
asters in the best of all possible worlds — where a 
hundred thousand ants, our neighbours, are crushed 
in a second on our ant-heaps, half, dying un- 
doubtedly in inexpressible agonies, beneath de- 
bris from which it was impossible to extricate them, 
families all over Europe reduced to beggary, and 
the fortunes of a hundred merchants — Swiss, like 
yourself — swallowed up in the ruins of Lisbon. 
What a game of chance human life is ! What will 
the preachers say — especially if the Palace of the 
Inquisition is left standing? I flatter myself that 
those reverend fathers, the Inquisitors, will have 
been crushed just like other people. That ought 
to teach men not to persecute men: for, while a 
few sanctimonious humbugs are burning a few 
fanatics, the earth opens and swallows up all alike. 


I believe it is our mountains which save us from 

To Mdlle 

[" Mme. Deshoulieres " was a graceful verse- 
writer of the seventeenth century. Many of her 
lines have become maxims.] 

Les Delices, June 20, 1756. 

I am only an old invalid, mademoiselle, and my 
not having answered your letter before, and now 
replying only in prose to your charming verses, 
prove that my condition is a serious one. 

You ask me for advice : your own good taste will 
afford you all you need. Your study of Italian 
should further improve that taste which was born 
in you, and which nobody can give you. Tasso 
and Ariosto will do much more for you than I can, 
and reading our best poets is better than all lessons ; 
but, since you are so good as to consult me from so 
far away, my advice to you is — read only such 
books as have long been sealed with the universal 
approval of the public and whose reputation is es- 
tablished. They are few: but you will gain much 


more from reading those few than from all the 
feeble little works with which we are inundated. 
Good writers are only witty in the right place, they 
never strive after smartness: they think sensibly, 
and express themselves clearly. Now, people ap- 
pear to write exclusively in enigmas. Every- 
thing is affected — nothing simple : nature is ignored, 
and everyone tries to improve on the masterpieces 
of our language. 

Hold fast, mademoiselle, by everything which 
delights you in them. The smallest affectation is a 
vice. The Italians, after Tasso and Ariosto, de- 
generated because they were always trying to be 
witty: and it is the same with the French. Observe 
how naturally Mme. de Sevigne and other ladies 
write: and compare their style with the confused 
phrases of our minor romances — I cite writers of 
your own sex because I am sure you can, and will, 
resemble them. There are passages of Mme. Des- 
houlieres which are equalled by no writer of the 
present day. If you wish examples of male 
authors — look how simply and clearly Racine in- 
variably expresses himself. Every reader of his 
works feels sure that he could himself say in prose 
what Racine has said in verse. Believe me, every- 
thing that is not equally clear, chaste, and simple 
is worth absolutely nothing. 

Your own reflections, mademoiselle, will tell you 


all this a hundred times better than I can say it. 
You will notice that our good writers— Fenelon, 
Bossuet, Racine, Despreaux — always use the right 
word. One gets oneself accustomed to talk well by 
constantly reading those who have written well: 
it becomes a habit to express our thoughts simply 
and nobly, without effort. It is not in the nature 
of a study: it is no trouble to read what is good, and 
to read that only: our own pleasure and taste are 
our only masters. 

Forgive this long disquisition; you must please 
attribute it to my obedience to your commands. 

I have the honour to be very respectfully yours. 


[In 1756, the French, under the Due de Riche- 
lieu, took Minorca from the English — the English 
fleet, under Admiral Byng, retiring before the 
French. Paris went mad with joy. Britain for- 
got her traditional love of fair play, and wreaked 
her bitterness at being beaten on her native ele- 
ment, not on the blundering ministry who had 
commanded him impossibilities, but on Admiral 
Byng himself. In December, 1756, George Keith, 
Earl Marischal of Scotland (whom Voltaire had 


met in Prussia), arrived at Les Delices to plead 
with the man who was fast becoming Humanita- 
rian-in-Chief of Europe to defend Admiral Byng — 
now arraigned on a charge of treason and cowardice. 
Voltaire wrote to his friend Richelieu, who replied 
in the first of the following letters, vindicating the 
character and conduct of his foe. Voltaire sent 
a copy of this letter to Byng with his own. He had 
met the Admiral many years before in England, 
but judged it better not to mention the acquain- 
tance. The third letter — Voltaire to Richelieu — 
shows the fruitlessness of their efforts. Notwith- 
standing the recommendation to mercy, Byng 
was shot on March 14, 1757, and his defender, 
the author of Candide, added to it an immortal 
phrase, "In this country (England) it is as well to 
put an admiral to death now and then, to encourage 
the others. "] 

The Due de Richelieu to Voltaire 

December, 1756 (probably). 

I am much concerned, sir, about the case of 
Admiral Byng. I can assure you that all I have 
seen and heard of him is entirely honourable to 
him. Since he had done all that could reasonably 
be expected of him, he was not to be blamed for 
having suffered defeat. 

When two generals engage in battle, though both 


are equally men of honour, one must be beaten : it 
is not in the least to M. Byng's discredit that he 
was. His conduct was throughout that of a clever 
sailor, and worthy of all admiration. The strength 
of the two fleets was about the same : the English 
had thirteen vessels : we had twelve, but ours were 
much better equipped and smarter. Fortune — 
which is the goddess of all battles — particularly of 
sea-battles — was more favourable to us than to 
our enemies, in causing our fire to have a much 
greater effect on their vessels than their fire on ours. 
I am convinced — and it is the general opinion — that, 
had the English persisted in the fight, their whole 
fleet would have been destroyed. Nothing could 
be more unjust than the present campaign against 
Admiral Byng. All men of honour, all officers in 
the services, should take a special interest in it. 

Voltaire to Admiral Byng 

[Voltaire enclosed with this letter a copy of the 
above letter from Richelieu.] 

Sir, although I am almost unknown to you, I 
think it is my duty to send you a copy of the letter 
I have just received from the Marechal de Riche- 
lieu: honour, humanity, and justice demand that 
it should reach your hands. 


This noble and unsolicited testimony of one of 
the most honest and generous of my fellow-country- 
men makes me conclude that your judges will 
render you the same justice. 

I am, with respect, 


Voltaire to the Due de Richelieu 

February 13, 1757. 

Your letter on Admiral Byng, sir, was given 
to that unfortunate man by the Secretary of State, 
to be used by him as a means of justification. The 
court martial found him a brave man and a true. 
But, notwithstanding, by one of those contradic- 
tions which are common in all such cases, he was 
condemned to death on the strength of an ancient 
law — I know not what — while at the same time he 
was recommended to mercy — a power which can 
be exercised by the King alone. The faction which 
attacked him now accuses him of treachery in try- 
ing to turn your letter to account — as if it were that 
of a man he had bribed to speak for him. So rea- 
sons malice : but the clamour of the dogs will not 
prevent honest people from regarding your letter 
as that of a just and generous conqueror, prompted 
only by the magnanimity of his heart. 

I suppose you have been busy this last month 
with all these public events — horrible, trouble- 


some, or disagreeable — which succeed each other so 
rapidly. Those of us who live philosophically in 
retirement are not the most to be pitied. I will 
not impose on your time and your kindness by 
writing at great length: a first gentleman of the 
chamber, who has the King and the Dauphin to 
attend to, and who, besides, is at the head of armies 
and in the secrets of councils, deserves that his cor- 
respondents should be brief. 

Mme. Denis is always your faithful admirer, and 
there is no Swiss more tenderly and respectfully 
attached to you than 

The Swiss Voltaire. 


To M. d'Alembert 

[D'Alembert, one of the greatest geometricians 
of his age, was better known to it as the author of 
the Preface of that famous Encyclopedia of 
which Diderot was the chief promoter, and to which 
Voltaire was already a contributor. D'Alembert 
— whose literary style in general has not been 
unfairly described as "dry as a stick, hard as a 
stone, and cold as a cucumber" — rose in that 


Preface to warmth and eloquence: and by it to 
fame and the French Academy. In 1756 he stayed 
for five weeks with Voltaire at Geneva : and met at 
his table many Calvinistic pastors of that town, to 
whom his gentle and unassuming character, his 
detestation of Rome, and his noble mental gifts 
made him a -persona grata: while he, on his side, 
rejoiced to find ministers of religion almost as 
free-thinking — or so it seemed — as the philosophers 
themselves. On his return to Paris he wrote for 
the Encyclopedia the famous article, Geneva, 
wherein he set it by the ears by complimenting it 
on the rationalism of its faith, and as having very 
often no other but "a perfect Socinianism, reject- 
ing all mystery. " 

" The few lines on comedy" he added to the article 
heaped fresh fuel on the fire, for they pointed out 
to Calvinism, which considered it the pet amuse- 
ment of the devil, the innocence of play-acting. 
The Calvinistic pastors took counsel together, 
and drew up what Voltaire calls in this letter 
their "fine profession of faith": while presently 
Jean Jacques gave, with "the rushing mighty 
wind of his inspiration, " in his Letter on Plays, the 
case against the theatre. The opposition, which 
always goaded Voltaire to action, caused the 
gentler d'Alembert to draw back into his shell. 
Even the spur and incitement of a Voltaire could 


not rouse him to firmness and retaliation. A year 
after this letter was written, the Encyclopedia — : 
largely as a consequence of the article Geneva 
— was publicly burnt; the permit to continue pub- 
lishing it rescinded; and printers and publishers 
sent to the galleys. To the passionate urging of 
his "dear and illustrious master" at Les Delices to 
fight on — to fight to the death — d'Alembert, 
wounded to the soul, made answer, "I do not 
know if the Encyclopaedia will be continued, but I 
am sure it will not be continued by me": and he 
devoted the rest of his life to his geometrical studies 
and to his long passion for Mdlle. de Lespinasse. 

"Lausanne. Bed; whence I can see ten miles of 
Lake." Besides Les Delices at Geneva, Voltaire had 
also a house, Monrion, at Ouchy-Lausanne, where, 
as it was sheltered from the cold winds prevalent 
at Geneva, he often passed the winter.] 

Lausanne, Bed; whence I can see ten miles of Lake. 

January 29, 1758. 

Do not speak of your letters as "babble," my 
brave and worthy philosopher: it is essential, if 
you please, to discuss and understand the business 
with which they deal. 

Geneva is making a fine profession of faith : you 
will have the satisfaction of having compelled the 
heretics to publish a catechism. They complain 


of the article on Actors, included in that on Geneva: 
but you added these few lines on comedy at the 
request of the citizens themselves. Thus, you have 
merely, on the one hand, yielded to the persuasions 
of the middle class, and, on the other, have repeated 
the opinion of the ministers — an opinion which has 
been published in the text-book of one of their 
theologians, and was publicly discussed everywhere 
before you spoke. 

When I begged you to resume your work on the 
Encyclopaedia, I did not know to what a vile ex- 
cess libel had been carried, and I was far from sus- 
pecting that it was actually prompted by the 
authorities. I wrote you a long letter by Mme. 
de Fontaine: she is your neighbour: cannot you 
manage to go and see her? 

It would be sad to think you were leaving the 
Encyclopaedia on account of the article on Geneva, 
as rumour pretends: but it would be sadder still 
that you should continue to be the victim of 
annoyances which, in proportion as they are 
dishonouring to our nation, should rouse you to 

Are you in close co-operation with M. Diderot 
and your other colleagues? "A three-fold cord is 
not quickly broken. " 

When you all state simultaneously that you will 
not work without a guarantee of the honourable 


freedom which is essential to you, and of the pro- 
tection to which you are entitled, surely it is not 
doubtful that you will be implored not to deprive 
France of a monument necessary to her glory? 
The clamour will pass: the work will remain. 

If you all abandoned the work together, making 
your own stipulations, that might be well : it would 
be very unpleasant for you to leave it by yourself: 
the head must not cut itself off from the body. 

When you produce the first volume, add a pre- 
face to it which will shame those cowards who have 
permitted the only writers now working for the 
glory of the nation to be insulted : and, for God's 
sake, stop those feeble declamations which are being 
inserted in your Encyclopaedia. Do not give our 
enemies the right to complain that those who have 
been unsuccessful, or a dead failure, in the arts can 
take upon themselves to make the rules for those 
arts and set those rules by their own absurd fancies. 
Banish the feeble moralising which pads several 
articles. The reader wants to know the different 
acceptations of a word, and detests trivial and com- 
monplace authorities quoted in support of it. 
What obliges you to disgrace the Encyclopaedia 
with this mass of twaddle and rubbish which gives 
so good a handle to the critics ? and why join beg- 
gar's fustian to your cloth-of-gold ? Be absolute 
masters of it, or abandon the whole thing. Unfor- 


tunate sons of Paris, you should have undertaken 
this work in a free country! You have laboured 
for the booksellers : they take the profits, and leave 
you the persecution. All this — which I regret 
with my whole heart for your sakes — makes me 
find my retirement delightful. Would to God you 
had never seen a minister when you were here! 
Keep me posted in everything, I implore you. 


To M. . . . 

[The anonymous friend to whom this letter was 
addressed was evidently a Swiss. 

"Montesquieu often lacks arrangement, etc." (see 
Letter XXV, "On Corneille and Racine," and 
Letter LXXX, "On Monarchy and Despotism," 
for further details on Montesquieu and his books). 

"His book should be the breviary of those called to 
rule others. " Voltaire is here referring to Montes- 
quieu's most famous work, UEsprit des Lois, 
which Mme. du Deffand wittily summarised as 
"l'esprit sur les lois. " All the same, it can claim 
to be the most lucid and original, as it is un- 
doubtedly the most amusing, work on the science 


of law ever published. Sixteen years earlier, Mon- 
tesquieu had actively opposed Voltaire's election 
to the French Academy on the grounds, "Voltaire 
n'est pas beau, il n'est que joli. " In a broader and 
more generous spirit Voltaire criticised his critic — 
"Humanity had lost its title deeds. Montesquieu 
found and restored them. "] 

Les Delices, January 5, 1759. 

It is as necessary, my dear friend, to preach 
tolerance among you as it is among us. With all 
due deference to you, if you could justify the Eng- 
lish, Danish, and Swedish penal laws you would be 
justifying at the same time our laws against you. 
They are all, I concede, equally absurd, inhuman, 
and contrary to good government: but we have 
simply imitated you. By your laws I am not al- 
lowed to buy a tomb in Sichem. If one of your 
people prefers the mass to the sermon, for the 
salvation of his soul, he at once ceases to be a 
citizen, and loses everything — even his national 
rights. You do not allow any priest to celebrate 
mass in a low voice, in private, in any of your towns. 
Have you not driven out all ministers who cannot 
bring themselves to sign I know not what doctrinal 
formula? have you not exiled, for a mere yea and 
nay, those poor, peaceful Memnonists, in spite of 
the wise representations of the States General, 


who received them kindly? are there not still a 
large number of these exiles in the mountains in the 
diocese of Basle whom you do not permit to return ? 
and has not a pastor been deposed because he ob- 
jected to his flock being damned eternally? Con- 
fess, my dear philosopher, that you are no wiser 
than we are: and avow, too, that opinions have 
caused more trouble on this little globe than plagues 
and earthquakes. And yet you do not wish us to 
attack such opinions with our united strength! 
Would it not be a good thing for the world to over- 
throw the superstition which in all ages infuriates 
men one against the other? To worship God: to 
leave to every man freedom to serve Him accord- 
ing to his own ideas: to love one's neighbours; en- 
lighten them, if one can ; pity them, if they are in 
error: to regard as immaterial, questions which 
would never have given trouble if no importance 
had been attached to them: this is my religion, 
which is worth all your systems and all your 

I have not read any of the books of which you 
tell me, my dear philosopher: I keep to old works, 
which teach me something: from the new I learn 
very little. I confess that Montesquieu often lacks 
arrangement, in spite of his division into books and 
chapters : that he sometimes takes an epigram for a 
definition, and an antithesis for a new idea: that he 


is not always correct in his quotations : but he will 
remain for ever a profound and heaven-sent genius, 
who thinks and makes his readers think. His 
book should be the breviary of those called to rule 
others. He will endure, and the scribblers will be 

As to your writers on agriculture, I believe that 
a sensible peasant knows more about it than au- 
thors who, from the retirement of their libraries, 
issue instructions as to how the earth is to be 
ploughed. I plough, but I do not write on plough- 
ing. Every age has had its hobby. On the re- 
vival of learning, people began by quarrelling with 
each other over dogmas and rules of syntax: a 
taste for rusty old coins has been succeeded by 
researches on metaphysics, which nobody under- 
stands. These unintelligible questions have been 
abandoned in favour of pneumatic and electrical 
machines, which do teach something: then every- 
body began collecting shells and fossils. After 
that, some modestly essayed to manage the uni- 
verse: while others, equally modest, sought to 
reform empires by new laws. Finally, descending 
from the sceptre to the plough, new Triptolemies 
tried to teach men what everybody knows and 
does much better than they know how to talk 
about it. Such is the march of changing fashions : 
but my friendship for you will never change. 



To Mme. du Deffand 

[Clarissa Harlowe, published in nine volumes in 
1748, and one of the most famous novels of the 
century, was, and is, as variously estimated in 
France as in England. If Voltaire found it dull 
and copious, Diderot ranked Richardson with 
Moses and Homer: while that unsentimental old 
worldling, Mme. du Deffand, was almost as warm 
in its praises as Haydon, the painter, who read it 
for seventeen hours at a stretch, and declared that, 
save by Othello, he had never been so moved by 
any work of genius. The modern reader, if he 
reads it at all (which, to his loss, he generally does 
not), is inclined to agree with Voltaire as to its 
"linked sweetness long drawn out": or to echo the 
criticism of d'Alembert, "La nature est bonne a 
imiter, mais non pas jusqua l'ennui. " 

" / am sorry I once decried him. " Voltaire had 
"decried" Rabelais in The Temple of Taste — a sort 
of French Dunciad, published nearly thirty years 
before this letter was written.] 

Les Delices, April 12, 1760. 

I have not sent you, madam, any of those trifles 
with which you condescend to while away an idle 


moment. For more than six weeks I have broken 
with all humankind: I have buried myself in my 
own thoughts: then came the usual country em- 
ployments, and then a fever. Taking all these 
things into consideration, you have had nothing, 
and most likely will have nothing, for some time. 

You need, however, only write and say to me, 
"I want to be amused, I am well, in full feather, 
and a good humour, and I should like some trifles 
sent along to me," and you shall have a whole 
postbag — comic, scientific, historical, or poetic, 
just as pleases you best— pon condition you throw it 
in the fire when read. 

You were so enthusiastic over Clarissa that I 
read it as a relaxation from my work when I was 
ill: the reading made me feverish. It is cruel for 
a man as impatient as I am to read nine whole 
volumes containing nothing at all, and serving no 
purpose whatever but to give a glimpse of Miss 
Clarissa's love for a profligate like Lovelace. I 
said to myself: "Were all these people my friends 
and relatives, I could not take the least interest in 
them. " I see nothing in the author but a cleverish 
man who knows the invincible curiosity of the 
human species, and who holds out hopes of grati- 
fying it volume after volume — in order to sell 
them. When at last I found Clarissa in a house of 
ill fame, I was greatly touched. 


Pierre Corneille's Theodore (who wants to get 
into La Fillons from a Christian motive) does not 
approach Clarissa, either in its situations or in its 
pathos ; but, save that part where the pretty English 
girl finds herself in that disreputable place, I con- 
fess that nothing in the novel gave me the least sat- 
isfaction, and I should be sorry to have to read it 
through again. The only good books, it seems to me, 
are those which can be re-read without weariness. 

The only good books of that particular kind are 
those which set a picture constantly before the 
imagination, and soothe the ear by their harmony. 
People want music and painting, with a few little 
philosophical precepts thrown in now and again 
with a reasonable discretion. For this reason 
Horace, Virgil, and Ovid always please — save in the 
translations, which spoil them. 

After Clarissa I re-read some chapters of Rabelais, 
such as the fight of brother Jean des Entommeures, 
and the meeting of the council of Pierochole: I 
know them almost by heart: but I re-read them 
with the greatest pleasure, for they give a most 
vivid picture of life. 

Not that I compare Rabelais with Horace: but if 
Horace is the first writer of good epistles, Rabelais, 
at his best, is the first of buffoons. Two men of 
this kind in a nation are not needed : but one there 
must be. I am sorry I once decried him. 


But there are pleasures superior to all this sort 
of thing: those of seeing the grass grow in the 
fields, and the abundant harvest ripen. That is 
man's true life: all the rest is vanity. 

Forgive me, madam, for speaking to you of a 
pleasure enjoyed through the eyes : you only know 
the pleasures of the soul. The way you bear your 
affliction is wholly admirable : you enjoy, anyhow, 
all the advantages of society. It is true that that 
often comes to mean merely giving one's opinion 
on the news of the day; which, in the long run, 
seems to me exceedingly insipid. Only our tastes 
and passions make this world supportable. You 
replace the passions by philosophy, a poor sub- 
stitute: while I replace them with the tender and 
respectful attachment I have always felt for you. 

Wish President Henault good health from me: 
and I hope he will not quite forget me. 


To M. Palissot 

[At the end of 1758 Voltaire had bought the 
charming little estate of Ferney, about three miles 
from Geneva. 

From an old print 


His lively and quite youthful enjoyment in 
rebuilding the house and the ugly little church 
which stood in its grounds was marred in the spring 
of 1760 by the production in Paris of a play, by 
Charles Palissot, a journalist, called The Philoso- 
phers, ridiculing the philosophic party — par- 
ticularly Diderot, Helvetius, Duclos, and other of 
Voltaire's friends. What made the thing particu- 
larly base was that in 1755 Palissot had been Vol- 
taire's guest at Les Delices, with the poet Patu, who 
was a friend of David Garrick. It is true, Voltaire 
was not personally attacked in the play: but he 
replied for his brethren in a scathing burlesque on 
The Philosophers called The Scotch Girl, in which he 
revenged himself not only on Palissot but on Freron, 
an older and deadlier foe, and also a critic and 
journalist. The Scotch Girl he immediately fol- 
lowed by his romantic tragedy, Tancred which 
Palissot had admired, or of which he had expressed 
admiration. Palissot's next stab was the publica- 
tion of Voltaire's private correspondence with him : 
which drew upon himself the following letter. 

" The whole Academy was exasperated with Le- 
franc's Discourse." The Marquis Lefranc de 
Pompignan, who had succeeded Voltaire as His- 
toriographer of France, and who had fallen upon 
the philosophic party in his address, delivered on 
taking his chair in the French Academy on March 


10, 1760. Voltaire had retaliated in a succession of 
deadly little brochures — the Whens, the Whats, the 
Whys, and the JVhos.] 

Ferney, near Geneva, September 24, 1760. 

I am forced to complain, sir, of your having pub- 
lished my letters without my consent. Such a 
proceeding is neither philosophical nor worldly- 
wise. I am, however, answering your letter of 
September 13 th, at the same time begging you, by 
every social obligation, not to make public what I 
write for you alone. 

I begin by thanking you for the part you have the 
kindness to play in Tancred's little success. You are 
right in not liking scenic display and action on the 
stage, except when both are connected with the in- 
terest of the piece : you write too well not to wish the 
poet to take precedence of the scene-painter. 

I am also of your opinion as to literary battles: 
but you must confess that, in any war, the aggressor 
is alone to blame before God and man. After 
forty years I have lost my patience. I have given 
sundry little pats with my paw to my enemies, just 
to let them know that, in spite of my sixty-seven 
years, I am not paralysed. You set about that 
business earlier than I did: you attacked people 
who did not attack you; and, unfortunately, I am 
the friend of several persons into whom you have 


dug your claws. I thus find myself between you 
and my friends whom you are tearing to pieces: 
you will confess you are putting me into a very 
awkward position. I was much touched by your 
visit to Les Delices : I felt a great liking for you and 
M. Patu, who came with you: and my affection, 
divided between yourself and him, was centred on 
you alone after his death. Your letters have been 
a great pleasure to me : I have been much inter- 
ested in your fortunes and your success: our inter- 
course, which gave me so much pleasure, has ended 
by calling down on me the stinging reproaches of 
my friends. They complain of my corresponding 
with a man who insults them. To put the finishing 
touch to this disagreeable situation, someone has 
sent me the notes printed in the margin of your 
letters : these notes are of the severest character. 

You ought not to be astonished that the offended 
should not spare the offender. This dispute de- 
grades letters: they were already sufficiently de- 
spised and persecuted by the majority of those men 
who think only of money. 

It is a horrible thing when those who should be 
united by their tastes and feelings abuse each other 
like Jansenists and Molinists. Those little scoun- 
drels in the black cassocks opposed men of letters 
because they were jealous of them. Every think- 
ing being ought to rise up against these fanatical 


hypocrites. They deserve to be held up to the 
execration of their own age and of posterity. 
Judge how grieved I must be that you have fought 
under their banners ! 

My consolation is that justice is done at last. 
The whole Academy was exasperated with Le- 
franc's Discourse: you might have had a chair in 
that Academy if you had not publicly insulted two 
of its members in your play. You know that our 
friends easily abandon us, and that our enemies are 

This affair has robbed me of my cheerfulness, 
and left me, so far as you are concerned, wholly 
regretful. Pompignan and Freron amused me: 
you have saddened me. 

Feeble as I am, I write to tell you that I shall 
never console myself for an episode which brings so 
much discredit on literature: that it has become a 
degrading and abominable profession, and that I 
regret having loved it, and you. 



To M. de Bastide 

[M. de Bastide was the author of a book called 

The New Spectator. 


This letter gives a good example of Voltaire's 
delicately ironical method, though unfortunately 
much of the delicacy is inevitably lost in a trans- 


I do not suppose, Spectator of the World, that 
you propose to fill your pages with facts concerning 
the physical world. Socrates, Epictetus, Marcus 
Aurelius, allowed all the spheres to gravitate one 
on the top of the other, that they might devote 
themselves to the regulation of manners. Are 
your speculations also thus concentrated on moral- 
ity? But what do you expect from a morality 
which the teachers of the nations have already 
preached about with so much success ? 

I agree with you that it is somewhat of a reflec- 
tion on human nature that money accomplishes 
everything and merit almost nothing: that the real 
workers, behind the scenes, have hardly a modest 
subsistence, while certain selected personages flaunt 
on the stage : that fools are exalted to the skies, and 
genius is in the gutter: that a father disinherits 
six virtuous children to make his first-born — often a 
scapegrace — heir to all his possessions : that a luck- 
less wretch who comes to grief, or to any unhappy 
end in a foreign country, leaves the fortune of his 
natural inheritors to the treasury of that state. 


It is sad to see — I confess it again — those who 
toil in poverty, and those who produce nothing, in 
luxury: great proprietors who claim the very birds 
that fly and the fish that swim: trembling vassals 
who do not dare to free their houses from the wild 
boar that devours them : fanatics who want to burn 
everyone who does not pray to God after their own 
fashion: violence in high places which engenders 
violence in the people: might making right not 
only amongst nations but amongst individuals. 

And it is this state of things, common to all lives 
and to all places, which you expect to change! 
Behold the folly of you moralists! Mount the 
pulpit with Bourdaloue, or wield the pen like La 
Bruyere, and you waste your time — the world will 
go its way! 

A government which could provide for all would 
do more in a year than the order of preaching friars 
has done since their institution. 

In a very short space of time Lycurgus raised the 
Spartans above ordinary humanity. The force 
of Confucius' wisdom, two thousand years ago, is 
still felt in China. 

But, as neither you nor I are made to govern, if 
you have such an itching for reform, reform our 
virtues, which in excess may well become preju- 
dicial to the prosperity of the state. It is easier 
to reform virtues than vices. The list of exagger- 


ated virtues would be a long one : I will mention a 
few, and you will easily guess the rest. 

I observe, walking about the country, that the 
children of the soil eat much less than they require: 
it is difficult to conceive this immoderate passion 
for abstinence. It even looks as if they had got 
into their heads that it will be accounted to them 
for virtue if their beasts also are half-starved. 

What is the result ? Men and beasts waste away, 
their stock becomes feeble, work is suspended, and 
the cultivation of the land suffers. 

Patience is another virtue carried to excess, 
perhaps, in the country. If the tax collectors lim- 
ited themselves to executing the will of their lord, 
to be patient would be a duty: but if you question 
these good folk who supply us with bread, they will 
tell you that the manner in which the taxes are 
levied is a hundred times more onerous than the 
tax itself. Their patience ruins them and their 
landowners with them. 

The evangelical pulpit has reproached kings and 
the great a hundred times for their harshness to 
the poor. The fault has been corrected — in excess. 
The royal antechambers overflow with servants 
better fed and better clothed than the lords of the 
parishes whence they come. This excess of char- 
ity robs the country of soldiers, and the land of 


Spectator of the World, do not let the scheme of 
reforming our virtues shock you: the founders of 
religious orders have reformed each other. An- 
other reason for encouragement is that it is perhaps 
easier to discern an excess of good than to pro- 
nounce on the nature of evil. Believe me, dear 
Spectator, I cannot urge you too strongly to reform 
our virtues : men cling too tightly to their vices. 


To M. le Comte d'Argental 

[" The letters of Lady Mary Worthy Montagu, now 
appearing in England" (see Letter XL VII, "On 

It is almost unique to find a Frenchman estimat- 
ing the correspondence of Lady Mary Wortley 
Montagu above that of Mme. de Sevigne: but the 
fact indeed is, as Voltaire shows, that Lady Mary 
had wider and larger interests, and that, compared 
with her broad and shrewdly humorous description 
of her travels in the East, the letters of Mme. de 
Sevigne are bloodless and elegant — the letters 
which made Napoleon feel as if he had been "eat- 
ing snowballs," and which Lady Mary herself 


dismissed (most unfairly) as the tittle-tattle of a 
fine lady or an old nurse. 

Lady Mary died in 1762, a year before this letter 
was written.] 


My dear angels, it is a great pity that the 
Literary Gazette allowed itself to be prejudiced in 
the account it gave of the Letters of Lady Mary 
Wortley Montagu, which are appearing in England. 
The Letters of Mme. de Sevigne are suited to the 
French, those of Lady Montagu to all nations. If 
they are ever well translated (and that would be a 
difficult task) you will be delighted to find in them 
so much that is new and curious, embellished by 
knowledge, taste, and good writing. Just fancy 
that for more than a thousand years no traveller 
able to gain and give information had reached Con- 
stantinople through the countries which Lady 
Montagu traversed: she has seen the native land 
of Orpheus and Alexander: she has dined tete-a- 
tete with the widow of the Emperor Mustapha; 
she has translated Turkish songs and declarations 
of love, which are quite in the style of the Song of 
Songs ; she has observed manners resembling those 
described by Homer, and has travelled with her 
Homer in her hand. We learn from her to rid our- 
selves of many of our prejudices. The Turks are 
neither such brutes nor so brutal as has been said. 


She found as many Deists at Constantinople as 
there are in Paris or London. I confess I am 
grieved that she treats both our music and our 
holy religion with the most profound disdain: 
but we must try to get used to this trifling mor- 

Pray tell me what happens to this Literary Ga- 
zette. Will the Due de Praslin's support of it go 
for nothing? Are they working at it, and putting 
a little salt into it ? No good dishes without salt ! 
It is the sauce that makes the cook. 


To M. Bertrand 

['My friend Jean- Jacques will not allow comedy," 
against which Rousseau had protested in his 
Letter on Plays (see Letter LV, "On the Great 

January 8, 1764. 

I shall never cease, my dear sir, to preach toler- 
ance from the housetops — despite the groans of 
your priests and the outcries of ours — until perse- 
cution is no more. The progress of reason is slow, 
the roots of prejudice lie deep. Doubtless, I shall 


never see the fruits of my efforts, but they are 
seeds which may one day germinate. 

You are of the opinion, my dear friend, that 
jesting is not suitable to serious subjects. We 
Frenchmen are naturally lively: the Swiss are 

Is it possible that, in the delightful canton of 
Vaud, which in itself inspires cheerfulness, solem- 
nity is an effect of the government ? Depend upon 
it, nothing is so efficacious in crushing superstition 
as ridicule. I do not confound superstition with 
religion, my dear philosopher. 

Religion is the target of pride and folly: super- 
stition the objective of wisdom and reason. 
Superstition has always produced trouble and dis- 
cord : religion maintains brotherhood, learning, and 
peace. My friend Jean-Jacques will not allow 
comedy, and you set your face against innocent 
jests. In spite of your solemnity, I am yours most 


To M. Damilaville 

[Damilaville was Voltaire's Paris correspondent 
and factotum in general, and was constantly em- 


ployed in transmitting books and news to 

This letter — meant for the public eye as much as 
for M. Damilaville's — gives an excellent account, 
in brief, of the two great causes celebres which 
long engrossed Voltaire's superb talents and ener- 
gies, and which he made famous all over Europe. 
What the letter lays little stress on, is his own sacri- 
fices, in money as well as in the time he valued far 
above money, on his burning zeal and his invincible 
perseverance, which at last brought both cases to 
triumphant conclusions. On behalf of the Calas 
he had written not only Memoirs and Declarations 
and The History of Elizabeth Canning and of the 
Calas (taking care that they should be translated 
into foreign tongues and published in foreign coun- 
tries) but also the famous Treatise on Tolerance, 
which still lives, and dealt the death-blow to the 
cruel injustice hitherto meted to the Protestant in 
Catholic countries. On March 9, 1765, just a week 
after this letter was written, the innocence of Calas 
and his family was publicly declared by forty 
judges of the Council of Paris, unanimous in their 
verdict; and it only remained to him, who, it is 
said, loved none of his titles to fame so well as 
that of the "saviour of the Calas," to promote the 
further welfare of the Calas boys and of their 


The Sirvens' case was less dramatic. As Voltaire 
said, "it lacked a scaffold. " But when they clung 
about his feet and implored him to save them also, 
he was not the man to pass by on the other side as 
his priestly friend advised him. 

For seven years he laboured to get their case 
re-tried, giving to it unstintingly, as he had given 
to the Calas, his time, fame, brains, money, and 
influence: but it was not until 1771, when he was 
seventy-seven years old, that the Parliament of 
Toulouse completely exculpated the accused; hav- 
ing taken, as Voltaire said, two hours to condemn 
innocence and nine years to give it justice. 

" The new Memoir of M. de Beaumont. " Elie 
de Beaumont — hereafter a famous and brilliant 
avocat — was quite unknown when Voltaire chose 
him to be, with d'Alembert and Mariette (already 
celebrated), counsel for Mme. Calas — Voltaire 
paying all expenses himself. De Beaumont's 
Memoir showed "three impossibilities" in the way 
of Calas' having murdered his son. "The fourth," 
said Voltaire, " is that of resisting your arguments. " 

"A lady whose generosity is as noble as her birth" 
—the Duchesse d'Enville, a patient of Voltaire's 
friend, Dr. Tronchin. She helped the Calas not 
only with money but by representing their case to 
Saint-Florentin, Chancellor of France. 

" It has not found Mariettes, Beaumonts and Loi- 


seau. " In point of fact, in a letter written a few 
days after this one, Voltaire announced that Elie 
de Beaumont would defend the Sirvens, as he 
had defended the Calas. 

"/ was myself giving shelter to a Jesuit" — Father 
Adam ("but not," as Voltaire said, "the first of 
men"), whose acquaintance Voltaire had made at 
Colmar, and to whom he gave hospitality for thir- 
teen years. 

"Who else . . . has defended the memory of a 
great prince against the abominable inventions of a 
writer, whoever he may be." The "great prince" 
was the Regent Orleans. The traducer, as Vol- 
taire knew very well, was that La Beaumelle who 
had published Voltaire's Century of Louis XIV 
with notes of his own (see Letter LI, "On the 
Advantages of Civilisation and Literature," and 
Letter XL, "The Quarrel with Maupertuis"). 

" The vile mercenary who twice a month outrages 
sense, etc. " This was Freron, Voltaire's old enemy, 
in his scandalous periodical the Annee Litteraire 
(see Letter LVIII, "Impeaching a Traducer"). 

" The sage of Montbar" was Buff on, the famous 

" The sage of Fore" was Voltaire's friend and pro- 
tege, Helvetius (see Letter XXII, "How to 
Write Verse"). After Helvetius settled on his 
estate at Vore, in Burgundy, in 175 1, he had shown 


himself — that rare phenomenon in the eighteenth 
century — a model landowner and an enlightened 

Ferney, March r, 1765. 

My dear friend, I have devoured the new 
Memoir of M. de Beaumont on the innocence of the 
Calas ; I have admired and wept over it, but it told 
me nothing I did not know; I have long been con- 
vinced, and it was I who was lucky enough to 
furnish the first proofs. 

You would like to know how this European pro- 
test against the judicial murder of the unhappy 
Calas, broken on the wheel at Toulouse, managed 
to reach a little unknown corner of the world, be- 
tween the Alps and the Jura, a hundred miles 
from the scene of the fearful event. 

Nothing more clearly reveals the existence of 
that imperceptible chain which links all the events 
of this miserable world. 

At the end of March, 1762, a traveller, who had 
come through Languedoc and arrived in my little 
retreat two miles from Geneva, told me of the sacri- 
fice of Calas, and assured me that he was innocent. 
I answered him that the crime was not a probable 
one, but that it was still more improbable that 
Calas' judges should, without any motive, break an 
innocent man on the wheel. 


I heard the next day that one of the children of 
this unfortunate man had taken refuge in Switzer- 
land, fairly near my cottage. His flight made me 
presume the guilt of the family. However, I 
reflected that the father had been condemned to 
death for having, by himself, assassinated his son 
on account of his religion, and that, at the time of 
his death, this father was sixty-nine years old. 
I never remember to have read of any old man be- 
ing possessed by so horrible a fanaticism. I have 
always observed that this mania is usually confined 
to young people, with weak, heated, and unstable 
imaginations, inflamed by superstition. The fan- 
atics of the Cevennes were madmen from twenty 
to thirty years of age, trained to prophesy since 
childhood. Almost all the convulsionists I had 
seen in any large numbers in Paris were young girls 
and boys. Among the monks the old are less 
carried away and less liable to the fury of the zealot 
than those just out of their novitiate. The notori- 
ous assassins, goaded by religious frenzy, have all 
been young people, as have all those who have 
pretended to be possessed — no one ever saw an old 
man exorcised. This reasoning made me doubt a 
crime, which was, moreover, unnatural. I was 
ignorant of its circumstances. 

I had young Calas to my house. I expected to 
find him a religious enthusiast, such as his country 


has sometimes produced. I found a simple and 
ingenuous youth, with a gentle and very interesting 
countenance, who, as he talked to me, made vain 
efforts to restrain his tears. He told me that he 
was at Nimes, apprenticed to a manufacturer, 
when he heard that his whole family was about to 
be condemned to death at Toulouse, and that al- 
most all Languedoc believed them guilty. He 
added that, to escape so fearful a disgrace, he had 
come to Switzerland to hide himself. 

I asked him if his father and mother were of a 
violent character. He told me that they had never 
beaten any one of their children, and that never 
were parents more tender and indulgent. 

I confess that no more was needed to give me a 
strong presumption in favour of the innocence of 
the family. I gathered fresh information from two 
merchants of Geneva, of proven honesty, who had 
lodged at the Calas' house in Toulouse. They con- 
firmed me in my opinion. Far from believing the 
Calas family to be fanatics and parricides, I 
thought I saw that it was the fanatics who had 
accused and ruined them. I had long known of 
what party spirit and calumny are capable. 

But what was my astonishment when, having 
written to Languedoc on the subject of this extra- 
ordinary story, Catholics and Protestants answered 
that there was no doubt as to the crime of the Calas I 


I was not disheartened. I took the liberty of 
writing to those in authority in the province, to 
the governors of neighbouring provinces, and to 
ministers of state : all unanimously advised me not 
to mix myself up in such a horrible affair: every- 
body blamed me : and I persisted : this is what I did. 

Calas' widow (from whom, to fill to the brim her 
cup of misery and insult, her daughters had been 
forcibly removed) had retired into solitude, where 
she lived on the bread of tears, and awaited death. 
I did not enquire if she was, or was not, attached to 
the Protestant religion, but only if she believed in 
a God who rewarded virtue and punished crime. 
I asked her if she would sign a solemn declaration, 
as before God, that her husband died innocent: 
she did not hesitate. She had to be persuaded to 
leave her retirement and to undertake the journey 
to Paris. 

It is then apparent that, if there are great crimes 
on the earth, there are as many virtues ; and that, 
if superstition produces horrible sufferings, phi- 
losophy redresses them. 

A lady, whose generosity is as noble as her birth, 
and who was staying at Geneva to have her 
daughters inoculated, was the first to succour this 
unhappy family. French people living in this 
country seconded her: the travelling English dis- 
tinguished themselves: there was a beneficent ri- 


valry between the two nations as to which should 
give the more to virtue so cruelly oppressed. 

As to the sequel, who knows it better than you ? 
Who has served innocence with a zeal as faithful 
and courageous? Who has more generously en- 
couraged the voice of those orators whom all France 
and Europe paused to hear? The days when Ci- 
cero justified, before an assembly of legislators, 
Amerinus accused of parricide, are with us again. 
A few people, calling themselves pious, have raised 
their voices against the Calas : but, for the first time 
since fanaticism was established, the wise have 
silenced them. 

What great victories reason is winning among us ! 
But would you believe, my dear friend, that the 
family of the Calas, so efficiently succoured and 
avenged, was not the only one that religion accused 
of parricide — was not the only one sacrificed to the 
furies of religious persecution? There is a case 
yet more pitiable, because, while experiencing the 
same horrors, it has not had the same consolations : 
it has not found Mariettes,Beaumonts, and Loiseau. 

There appears to be a horrible mania, indigenous 
to Languedoc, originally sown there by the in- 
quisitors in the train of Simon de Montfort, which, 
ever since then, from time to time hoists its flag. 

A native of Castres, named Sirven, had three 
daughters. As the religion of the family is the so- 


called reformed religion, the youngest of the daugh- 
ters was torn from the arms of her mother. She 
was put into a convent, where they beat her to help 
her to learn her catechism: she went mad: and 
threw herself into a well at a place not far from her 
parents' house. The bigots thereupon made up 
their minds that her father, mother, and sisters had 
drowned the child. The Catholics of the province 
are absolutely convinced that one of the chief 
points of the Protestant religion is that the fathers 
and mothers are bound to hang, strangle, or drown 
any of their children whom they suspect of any 
leaning towards the Catholic faith. Precisely at 
the moment when the Calas were in irons, this 
fresh scaffold was uplifted. 

The story of the drowned girl reached Toulouse 
at once. Everyone declared it to be a fresh in- 
stance of murderous parents. The public fury 
grew daily: Calas was broken on the wheel: Sir- 
ven, his wife, and his daughter were accused. Sirven, 
terrified, had just time to flee with his delicate 
family. They went on foot, with no creature to 
help them, across precipitous mountains, deep in 
snow. One of the daughters gave birth to an in- 
fant among the glaciers: and, herself dying, bore 
her dying child in her arms: they finally took the 
road to Switzerland. 

The same fate which brought the children of the 


Calas to me, decided that the Sirvens should also 
appeal to me. Picture to yourself, my friend, four 
sheep accused by the butchers of having devoured a 
lamb : for that is what I saw. I despair of describ- 
ing to you so much innocence and so much sorrow. 
What ought I to have done ? and what would you 
have done in my place? Could I rest satisfied 
with cursing human nature? I took the liberty 
of writing to the first president of Languedoc, a 
wise and good man: but he was not at Toulouse. 
I got one of my friends to present a petition to the 
vice-chancellor. During this time, near Castres, 
the father, mother, and two daughters were exe- 
cuted in effigy: their property confiscated and dis- 
sipated — to the last sou. 

Here was an entire family — honest, innocent, 
virtuous — left to disgrace and beggary among 
strangers: some, doubtless, pitied them: but it is 
hard to be an object of pity to one's grave! I was 
finally informed that remission of their sentence 
was a possibility. At first, I believed that it was 
the judges from whom that pardon must be ob- 
tained. You will easily understand that the fam- 
ily would sooner have begged their bread from door 
to door, or have died of want, than ask a pardon 
which admitted a crime too horrible to be pardon- 
able. But how could justice be obtained? how 
could they go back to prison in a country where 


half the inhabitants still said that Calas' murder 
was just? Would there be a second appeal to 
Council? would anyone try to rouse again the 
public sympathy which, it might well be, the mis- 
fortunes of the Calas had exhausted, and which 
would weary of refuting such accusations, of re- 
instating the condemned, and of confounding their 

Are not these two tragic events, my friend, so 
rapidly following each other, proofs of the inevit- 
able decrees of fate, to which our miserable species 
is subject? A terrible truth, so much insisted on 
in Homer and Sophocles: but a useful truth, since 
it teaches us to be resigned and to learn how to 

Shall I add that, while the incredible calamities 
of the Calas and the Sirvens wrung my heart, 
a man, whose profession you will guess from what 
he said, reproached me for taking so much interest 
in two families who were strangers to me ? " Why 
do you mix yourself up in such things?" he asked; 
"let the dead bury their dead." I answered him, 
"I found an Israelite in the desert — an Israelite 
covered in blood ; suffer me to pour a little wine and 
oil into his wounds: you are the Levite, leave me to 
play the Samaritan. " 

It is true that, as a reward for my trouble, I have 
been treated quite as a Samaritan: a defamatory 


libel appeared under the titles of A Pastoral 
Instruction and A Charge: but it may well be 
forgotten — a Jesuit wrote it. The wretch did 
not know then that I was myself giving shelter 
to a Jesuit! Could I prove more conclusively 
that we should regard our enemies as our 
brethren ? 

Your passions are humanity, a love of truth, and 
a hatred of calumny. Our friendship is founded 
on the similarity of our characters. I have spent 
my life in seeking and publishing the truth which 
I love. Who else among modern historians has 
defended the memory of a great prince against the 
abominable inventions of a writer, whoever he 
may be, who might well be called the traducer of 
kings, ministers, and military commanders, and 
who now has not a single reader? 

I have only done in the fearful cases of the 
Calas and the Sirvens what all men do: I 
have followed my bent. A philosopher's is not 
to pity the unhappy — it is to be of use to 

I know how furiously fanaticism attacks phi- 
losophy, whose two daughters,Truth and Tolerance, 
fanaticism would fain destroy as it destroyed the 
Calas: while philosophy only wishes to render 
innocuous the offspring of fanaticism, Falsehood 
and Persecution. 


Those who do not reason try to bring into 
discredit those who do: they have confused the 
philosopher with the sophist: and have greatly 
deceived themselves. The true philosopher can be 
aroused against the calumny which so often attacks 
himself: he can overwhelm with everlasting con- 
tempt the vile mercenary who twice a month out- 
rages sense, good taste, and morality: he can even 
expose to ridicule, in passing, those who insult 
literature in the sanctuary where they should have 
honoured it : but he knows nothing of cabals, under- 
hand dealings, or petty revenge. Like the sage 
of Montbar, like the sage of Vore, he knows how 
to make the land fruitful and those who dwell on 
it happier. The real philosopher clears unculti- 
vated ground, adds to the number of ploughs and, 
so, to the number of inhabitants : employs and en- 
riches the poor: encourages marriages and finds 
a home for the orphan: does not grumble at neces- 
sary taxes, and puts the agriculturist in a condition 
to pay them promptly. He expects nothing from 
others, and does them all the good he can. He has 
a horror of hypocrisy, but he pities the super- 
stitious: and, finally, he knows how to be a 

I perceive that I am painting your portrait : the 
resemblance would be perfect, were you so for- 
tunate as to live in the country. 




To M. d'Alembert 

[On October 1, 1765, the young Chevalier de la 
Barre had been arrested on a charge of mutilating 
crucifixes, insulting a religious procession, and 
"uttering blasphemies" in Abbeville. On Febru- 
ary 28, 1766, he, d'Etallonde (a friend, who had 
escaped to Prussia), and Moisnel, a boy of eigh- 
teen, were condemned to death, after having their 
tongues cut out and their hands cut off. Ten of 
the best avocats in Paris (the "ten humane and 
upright judges" of this letter) declared the brutal 
sentence illegal. A public appeal against it was 
made to the King. The case was re-tried at Paris, 
and the sentence confirmed. On July 1, 1766, la 
Barre (he was scarcely twenty) died "with the 
firmness of Socrates, " after having been put to the 
torture. With his body was burnt, with other 
contraband works, the first volume of The Philo- 
sophical Dictionary of Voltaire — who, with many 
others, had believed up to the last in a reprieve. 
As it was considered that the works of the philo- 
sophers — and of the Philosopher-in-Chief, chiefly 
— had been largely responsible for la Barre's 
folly, Voltaire went for safety to Rolle, in Vaud. 


There he wrote his noble tract in the cause of 
humanity, The Death of the Chevalier de la Barre, 
which, as he hoped, "frightened the carnivorous 
beasts off others," not only saved Moisnel from a 
punishment so barbarously disproportionate to 
the crime, but forced the judges to drop the case 
altogether. He also obtained King Frederick's 
protection for d'Etallonde: and in 1775, when 
d'Etallonde was at Ferney, pleaded for the restitu- 
tion of his civil rights in a pamphlet entitled The 
Cry of Innocent Blood (see also Letter LXVIII, 
"The Case of Martin"): 

"A lieutenant-general gagged" — General Lally 
(see Letter LXXXIV, "The Last Letter"). 

"Five young men condemned to be burnt for follies 
which deserved Saint-Lazare." There were really 
only three, d'Etallonde, Moisnel, and the Chevalier 
de la Barre: Voltaire was as yet imperfectly ac- 
quainted with the details of the case. Saint La- 
zare was the house of correction for juvenile 

" The Preface of the King of Prussia. " This was 
a Preface to a volume entitled Extracts from Bayle's 
Dictionary which had appeared in Berlin in 1766. 
The King turned the Preface into a panegyric of 
the proscribed and free-thinking Bayle (see Let- 
ter XII, "On the Liberty of the Press: and on 


" The theologian Fernet" was a Calvinistic pastor 
of Geneva, with whom Voltaire had quarrelled on 
the vexed subject of play-acting. Vernet made the 
mistake of attacking Voltaire in print. Voltaire 
replied in a Dialogue between a Priest and a Pro- 
testant Minister, which caused Vernet "to complain 
to the Council of Geneva that he was being held 
up to ridicule." To this complaint Voltaire — just 
two months before this letter was written — had 
made answer in one of the most stinging personal 
satires that ever fell from even his pen and was 
entitled The Praise of Hypocrisy.] 

July 18, 1766. 

Brother Damilaville has doubtless sent you, my 
dear philosopher, the "Narrative" of Abbeville. I 
cannot conceive how thinking beings can live in a 
land of apes who so often turn into tigers. For my 
part, I am ashamed to be even on the frontier. 
Truly, this is the moment to break all one's ties, 
and hide the shame and horror of one's soul in 
some far off land. I have not been able to get the 
report of the barristers' consultation: you doubtless 
have seen it — and shuddered. The moment for 
jesting has gone by: witticisms do not accord with 
massacres. What ! these Busirises in wig and gown 
condemn to death in the most horrible tortures 
children of sixteen ! and that against the judgment 


of ten humane and upright judges! And the 
nation allows it ! People discuss it for five minutes, 
and then go on to the Opera-Comique : and in- 
humanity, growing more and more insolent on the 
strength of our silence, to-morrow will cut the 
throats for which her fingers are itching — yours, 
first of all, for you have raised your voice against 

Here, on one hand, is Calas broken on the wheel ; 
on the other, Sirven hanged; a little further from 
home, a lieutenant-general gagged; and, a fort- 
night later, five young men condemned to be burnt 
for follies which deserved Saint-Lazare. What is 
the use of the Preface of the King of Prussia? 
Can he remedy such horrible crimes as these? Is 
this the land of gaiety and philosophy? It is 
rather that of the Massacre of St. Bartholomew. 
The Inquisition would not have dared to decide 
as these Jansenist judges have decided. Tell me, 
I beg you, what is being said, since nothing is 
being done. It is a feeble consolation to know 
that such monsters are held in abhorrence, but it is 
the only one that remains to our impotence, and I 
pray you to let me have it. The Prince of Bruns- 
wick is beside himself with indignation, rage, and 
pity. Redouble these passions in my heart by two 
words in your handwriting sent, by petite poste, 
to brother Damilaville. Your friendship, and that 


of a few other reasonable beings, is the only 
pleasure I have left. 

The mistake of the Preface consists in suppos- 
ing that the words In principio erat, etc., have 
been tampered with. They are two passages on 
the Trinity which have been interpolated into 
the Epistle of St. John. What a pity it all is! 
The time lost in unearthing errors might have 
been employed in discovering truths. 

N. B. The theologian Vernet complained to 
the Council of Geneva that he was being held up 
to ridicule: the Council offered him a written 
testimony to his morality — as if to say that he 
had not been a highway robber, nor even a 
pickpocket. This last part of the guarantee seems 
somewhat rash. 


To M. Mariott, Advocate-General of England 

["M. Mariott" — Sir James Marriott, appointed 
advocate-general of England in 1764 "through 
interest rather than superior merit, " was a clever 
and versatile person, lacking depth and solidity. 
His poems are entirely and justly forgotten. 


"Jean-Jacques, to whom you refer" — Jean- 
Jacques Rousseau (see Letter LI, "On the Ad- 
vantages of Civilisation and Literature"). Since 
the publication of Candide in 1759, when Vol- 
taire had withered by a grin Rousseau's and Pope's 
comfortable optimism, Rousseau and Voltaire 
had fallen out much more seriously on the vexed 
question of play-acting: Rousseau having made 
answer to d'Alembert's remarks in favour of it (see 
Letter LV, "On the Great Encyclopaedia") in his 
famous Letter on Plays, wherein he turned his back 
on his friends, the philosophers, and with the match- 
less glow and warmthof his irresistiblestyle, gave the 
Case against the Theatre. In 1760 he published 
The New Eloisa, that tissue of brilliant absurdities, 
whose sophism Voltaire exposed in four letters, 
signed the Marquis de Ximenes: while in 1762 
Voltaire was laughing at the long-winded Emile 
which had been publicly burnt in Geneva, as in 
Paris, so that it was only natural (though it was 
not the fact) that Rousseau should think that the 
Patriarch of Ferney had helped to light the fire. 
It was at this time that Rousseau was meeting — 
at the house of Baron d'Holbach and elsewhere — 
David Hume, the historian, who was then in Paris 
as secretary to the British embassy. The hostility 
of the French government towards Emile compel- 
ling Rousseau to fly from France, Hume offered 


him a house in England. Rousseau arrived in that 
country in January, 1766, and had soon persuaded 
himself that Hume's generosity was prompted by 
sinister motives, that he (Rousseau) was beset by 
spies and "suspect" of the British government. 
He proved indeed, as he spent his life in proving, 
that, as Voltaire said, he was "completely mad": 
or at least, as Dryden put it, 

"Great wits are sure to madness near allied, 
And thin partitions do their bounds divide." 

" By way of the great St. Bernard, the most horrible 
place in the world." A strong distaste for the 
wilder aspects of nature, far from being peculiar 
to Voltaire, was nearly as common in the eighteenth 
century as it had been in the sixteenth, when the 
Bishop of Ely, crossing the Alps by Mont-Cenis, 
declared it to be "rather a hell than a highway." 
" The rocks of Derbyshire" made that county "the 
vilest in England" for Voltaire: sauvage being for 
him literally "savage" as regarded scenery. 

"If you see Mr. Franklin" — Benjamin Franklin 
(see Letter LXXXI, "A Dying Testimony," and 
Letter LXXXII, "Paris in 1778")-] 

February 26, 1767. 

Sir, I have made up my mind to write to you via 
Calais rather than Holland because, in men's 


dealings with each other, as in physics, the shorter 
way is always the better way. 

It is true, I have let nearly three months go by 
without answering you : the fact is, I am older than 
Milton and nearly as blind. As one always en- 
vies one's neighbour, I feel jealous of Lord Chester- 
field who is deaf. Reading seems to me to be much 
more essential in a quiet life than conversation. 
Certainly, a good book is much more valuable than 
all the chance things one hears said. I believe 
that people who wish to improve themselves should 
set a higher value on their eyes than on their ears : 
but those who merely wish to be amused are, I 
agree with all my heart, better blind and able to 
listen to the gossip of the day. 

I expect your lively imagination is often much 
bored by the exacting little duties incidental to 
your position. No one would want to be solicitor- 
general if he were not supported by hope and the 
esteem of the public. 

A man who writes such charming verses as you 
do must have a great deal of courage to occupy 
himself with people's quarrels, and in guessing the 
intentions of a testator and the meaning of the 

My bad health has always prevented me from 
devoting myself to the business of the world: 
my illnesses have thus done me great service. I 


have lived for fifteen years in retirement with my 
family, in the midst of the loveliest country under 
heaven. When nature brings the spring, it restores 
my eyesight, of which it robs me in the winter: 
so I experience the pleasure of being born again, 
of which other men know nothing. 

Jean-Jacques, to whom you refer, has left his 
own country for yours, as I left mine long ago for 
his, or anyhow for its neighbourhood. Behold how 
men are the sport of fate! His Sacred Majesty, 
Chance, decides everything. 

Cardinal Bentivoglio, whom you quote to me, 
certainly is not too fond of the Swiss and speaks 
very ill of their country: but that is because he 
travelled by way of the St. Bernard, the most hor- 
rible place in the world. The Vaudois country, 
on the contrary, and that of Geneva, particularly 
Gex, where I live, are like a delightful garden. 
Half Switzerland is hell, the other half paradise. 

As you say, Rousseau has chosen the vilest 
county in England: everybody seeks what is best 
fitted for him: but the beautiful banks of the 
Thames must not be judged by the rocks of Derby- 
shire. I believe the quarrel between Mr. Hume 
and J. J. Rousseau terminated by Rousseau's 
earning for himself public contempt, and Mr. 
Hume's gaining the respect he deserves. 

Jean-Jacques' logic seemed to me most amusing 


— he tried to prove that Mr. Hume had been his 
benefactor out of spite: he brought against him 
three arguments, which he calls three slaps on his 
protector's cheeks. If the King of England had 
given him a pension, the fourth slap would doubt- 
less have been for his Majesty. The man seems to 
me completely mad. There are several like him at 
Geneva. They are more dismal there than they 
are in England: and I believe, in proportion to 
the population, there are more suicides in Geneva 
than in London. Not that suicide always comes 
from madness. There are said to be occasions 
when a wise man takes that course : but, generally 
speaking, it is not in an access of reasonableness 
that people kill themselves. 

If you see Mr. Franklin, I pray you, sir, be so 
good as to give him my remembrances and my 
respects. With the same, I have the honour to be, 
sir, yours, etc., etc. 



To Mme. du Deffand 

[" I find myself exposed to all the plagues of war 
. . . for some time I was exposed to famine." 

From the portrait by Cochin 


The disputes in the Genevan republic between the 
governing class and the bourgeoisie had risen to 
such a height by the beginning of 1767 that France, 
(asked by Voltaire himself, acting as mediator,) 
had quartered troops along the Lake of Geneva, 
to bring the republic to its senses by famine and 
blockade. For a while Ferney itself could with 
difficulty procure the necessaries of life. 

"The fifteenth chapter of ' Belisaire,'" by Mar- 
montel (see Letter XXXIV, "The Favour of 

"/ must humbly present you with my folly, ' The 
Scythians'" — a play of Voltaire's which Paris had 
received in the March of this year 1767 with loud 

" The Jesuits . . . have succeeded in getting 
themselves turned out of three kingdoms" — Portugal, 
France, and Spain. 

"The Semiramis of the North" — Catherine the 
Great of Russia, who had begun a correspondence 
with Voltaire in 1765. The "trifle about a husband" 
— the "family affairs" with which Voltaire pro- 
posed not to concern himself — were the strong sus- 
picions under which Catherine laboured of having 
poisoned the Emperor Peter in 1763. If she was a 
great criminal, it was not the less true that she was 
a woman of the highest mental capacity, and a 

great and enlightened ruler. She and Voltaire 



never met in the flesh: but in 1770 she helped him 
by ordering watches from his colony of watch- 
makers at Ferney, with a munificence perfectly 
royal: after his death, she bought his library and 
pensioned Wagniere, his secretary, for life. 

"A little book about Catherine" — this was The 
Letter on Panegyrics which Voltaire had written 
a month earlier, under a pseudonym, as he often 
did. It contains much agile flattery of Catherine, 
based on a substratum of truth.] 

May 18, 1767. 

For more than six weeks, madam, I have been 
waiting to write to you, to get news of your health, 
to ask you how both you and President Henault 
are supporting existence, and to exchange views 
with you on the deceits of the world ; but I find 
myself exposed to all the plagues of war and of snow 
thirty feet deep. Snow and ice deprive me of my 
eyesight for four months every year; I am then, as 
you know, your contemporary of eighty: only the 
eighties do not suffer, and I suffer acutely. In the 
spring I am born anew, and pass from Siberia to 
Naples without change of place: such is my 

Forgive my having been so long a time without 
writing to you : you know the strength of my at- 
tachment to you. You may indeed say, "Show 


your faith by your works : you would write if you 
were really so fond of me. " That is very true : 
but to write agreeably, mind and body must be at 
ease, and mine are far from it. You tell me you 
are bored ; I reply that I am driven wild. Such is 
life — either insipid or painful. 

When I say I am driven wild, that is a slight 
exaggeration: I mean, I have enough to drive me 
wild. The troubles of Geneva have upset all my 
plans : for some time I was exposed to famine : only 
pestilence was lacking: but an inflammation in my 
eyes did duty for that. I am now rousing myself 
by acting a comedy. I play an old man's part 
very fairly and most naturally, and as I dictate this 
letter I am trying on my stage dress. 

You have doubtless had read to you the fifteenth 
chapter olB'elisaire: it is the best of the whole book, 
or I am much mistaken. But were you not as- 
tonished at the decision of the Sorbonne which con- 
demned this proposition: "Truth radiates light 
from itself — men are never enlightened by the 
flames of the stake" ? If the Sorbonne is right, the 
only apostles are the executioners. 

I cannot conceive how anybody can put forward 
an idea so silly and abominable. I do not know 
how it is that communities say and do things so 
much more outrageously stupid than individuals: 
unless it is that an individual is responsible to 


everybody and communities to nobody. Each 
member lays the blame on his colleague. 

A propos of follies, I must humbly present you 
with my folly, The Scythians, of which a new edi- 
tion is now appearing, and I beg you to criticise it, 
always provided you have it read to you by some- 
one who understands how to read verse: an ac- 
complishment as rare as to write it — well. 

Of all the gigantic follies I have seen in my life, 
I know none to equal that of the Jesuits. They 
pass for being astute politicians, and have suc- 
ceeded in getting themselves turned out of three 
kingdoms — just to make a beginning. You see, 
they are far from deserving their reputation. 

I know a woman who is making herself a great 
one: that is the Semiramis of the North, who is 
sending fifty thousand men to Poland to establish 
there tolerance and liberty of conscience. This is 
unique in the history of the world, and, I answer for 
it, will go far. I may boast, to you, that I am 
rather in her good graces: I am her defender 
through all and in spite of all. I know very well 
she is blamed for some trifle about a husband: but 
those are family affairs with which I do not concern 
myself: and, besides, it is no bad thing to have a 
failing to counteract, for that implies great efforts 
to gain the public respect and admiration, and, 
assuredly, her scoundrel of a spouse would not have 


accomplished any one of the great things which my 
Catherine does every day. 

I long, madam, to relieve your boredom by the 
present of a little book about Catherine— pray 
God, it may not bore you further! I suppose 
women are not displeased at their sex being praised 
and considered capable of great things. You will 
have heard that she is about to make the tour of her 
vast empire. She has promised to write to me 
from the remotest confines of Asia .... 

Goodbye, madam. Were I in Paris I should 
prefer your society to any to be found in either 
Asia or Europe. 

To Mr. Horace Walpole 

[Horace Walpole, virtuoso and letter-writer, was 
the third son of the great Sir Robert. Voltaire, 
who declared Horace to be the best Frenchman ever 
born on English soil, knew him through their 
mutual friendship for Mme. du Deffand. 

"Your History of Richard III" was Walpole's 
Historic Doubts on Richard III wherein the author 
had done his best to whitewash the king's character. 

"Your novel" was the famous ghost-story, 


The Castle of Otranto, which successfully froze the 
blood of our grandparents and leaves ours perfectly 

" / was the first writer who made Shakespeare 
known to the French." In the English Letters, 
written during his visit to England in 1727-8, 
Voltaire had introduced Shakespeare to the French 
people, and shown him to be " an amazing genius " 
full of "force and fecundity, nature and sublimity, " 
though sadly lacking indeed polish, finish, culture, 
that vague quality called taste, and having a de- 
plorable readiness to drop into buffoonery and to 
set the unities at naught. Twenty years later, 
in 1748, he had penned a famous and malicious 
critique on Hamlet, admitting indeed in the play 
"sublime touches worthy of the loftiest genius," 
but dubbing its author a " drunken savage " all the 
same. Twenty years later still, in this letter of 
1768, he reiterates the opinion he had expressed in 
the English Letters — a criticism perfectly charac- 
teristic of the critic, himself too great a genius not 
to recognise a Shakespeare's, and yet so typically 
an eighteenth-century Frenchman that he must 
needs bow at the shrine of that neatness, exact- 
ness, regularity, which hampered so much of the 
talent of his age. In a letter to Mme. du Deffand, 
Horace Walpole took exception — not to say the 
strongest objection — to these remarks of Voltaire's. 


In 1776, when Voltaire was eighty-two, he replied 
in a rage, and a letter to the French Academy, to a 
French translation by Letourneur of the great 
William, wherein Letourneur had dared to call 
Shakespeare the "god of the theatre," and to 
ignore altogether Corneille and Racine (to say 
nothing of the author of Zaire). But, not the less, 
the Voltaire who in his old age attacked Shake- 
speare as an "indecent buffoon "who had "ruined 
the taste of England for two hundred years, " was 
he who had introduced him to the people of France, 
and whose real unbiassed opinion is that set forth 
in this letter to Horace Walpole. 

The clowning and buffoonery to which Voltaire 
objects are now, of course, recognised to be very 
often not Shakespeare at all: or if Shakespeare, 
Shakespeare stooping to the bad public taste of his 

"Fontenelle" (see Letter XL VII, "On Inocula- 

"Our 'Mere Sotte,'" by Pierre Gringore, a six- 
teenth-century writer, is said to be in its sub-title, 
a collection of the "oddities of men and women" 
collected by the Mere Sotte. 

"The Misanthrope" . . ."Georges Dandin" — 
comedies by Moliere. 

" Don Japhet d'Armenie" and " Jodelet" — come- 
dies by Scarron. 


The " Siege de Calais " — a bad tragedy by Belloy . 
"Cinna," " Athalie," "Iphigenie" — Cinna by 
Corneille; Athalie and Iphigenie by Racine.] 

Ferney, July 15, 1768. 

Sir, I have not ventured to speak English for 
forty years, and you are perfectly at home in our 
language. I have seen letters from you, written 
as naturally as you think. Moreover, my age 
and my state of health do not allow me to write 
with my own hand. So you must accept my 
thanks in my own tongue. 

I have just read the preface of your History of 
Richard III and found it all too short. When 
an author is so visibly in the right, and has in 
addition a philosophy so bold and a style so virile, 
1 want more of him. Your father was a great 
statesman and a good orator, but I doubt if he 
could have written as you write. You cannot 
say, "My father is greater than I." 

I have always agreed with you, sir, that ancient 
histories are untrustworthy. Fontenelle, the only 
man of the time of Louis XIV who was at once 
poet, philosopher, and scholar, declared that they 
were undoubtedly fabrications; and it must be 
admitted that Rollin has amassed many absurdi- 
ties and contradictions. 

After I had read the preface to your history, 


I read that to your novel. You laugh a little at 
me therein: the French quite understand raillery: 
but I am going to answer you in all seriousness. 

You have nearly succeeded in making your 
countrymen believe that I despise Shakespeare. 
I was the first writer who made Shakespeare 
known to the French : forty years ago I translated 
passages from his works, as from Milton's, Waller's, 
Rochester's, Dryden's, and Pope's. I can assure 
you that before my time no one in France knew 
anything about English poetry: and had hardly 
ever heard of Locke. I have been persecuted for 
thirty years by shoals of fanatics for having said 
that Locke is the Hercules of metaphysics and that 
he defined the limits of the human understanding. 

Fate willed that I should be the first to explain 
to my fellow-countrymen the discoveries of the 
great Newton, which many people among us still 
speak of as the systems. I have been your apostle 
and your martyr: truly, it is not fair that the Eng- 
lish should complain of me. 

I said, long ago, that if Shakespeare had lived 
in the time of Addison he would have added to his 
genius the elegance and purity which make Addi- 
son admirable. I stated that his genius was his 
own, and his faults the faults of his age. He is pre- 
cisely, to my mind, like Lope de Vega, the Span- 
iard, and like Calderon. His is a fine but untutored 


nature: he has neither regularity, nor propriety, 
nor art : in the midst of his sublimity he sometimes 
descends to grossness, and in the most impressive 
scenes to buffoonery: his tragedy is chaos, il- 
luminated by a hundred shafts of light. 

The Italians, who revived tragedy a century 
before the English and the Spanish, have not 
fallen into this fault: they have imitated the 
Greeks much better. There are no buffoons in 
(Edipus and the Electra of Sophocles. I strongly 
suspect that this grossness had its origin in our 
court fools. We were all a little uncivilised on 
this side of the Alps. Each prince had his regu- 
larly appointed jester. Ignorant kings, brought 
up by the ignorant, cannot know the noble pleas- 
ures of the mind: they degrade human nature to 
the point of paying people to talk nonsense to 
them. Thence comes it we have our Mere Sotte: 
and, before Moliere, there was a court fool in nearly 
all comedies: an abominable custom. 

I have, sir, it is true, said, just as you state, 
that there are serious comedies such as the Mis- 
anthrope which are masterpieces: that there are 
others which are very amusing, such as Georges 
Dandin: that drollery, gravity, pathos, may very 
well find place in the same comedy. I said that 
all styles were good, save the style which bores. 
Yes, sir, but grossness is not a style at all. In 


my father's house are many mansions: but I never 
pretended that it was reasonable to lodge in the 
same room Charles V and Don Japhet of Armenia, 
Augustus and a drunken sailor, Marcus Aure- 
lius and a street mountebank. It seems to me 
that Horace so thought, in the noblest of all ages: 
consult his Ars Poetica. All enlightened Europe 
thinks the same to-day: and the Spanish are be- 
ginning to get rid of bad taste as well as the Inquisi- 
tion — good sense proscribing the one as much as 
the other. . . . 

You free Britons, you do not observe the unities 
of time, place, and action. Truly, you do not im- 


prove matters: probability ought to count for 
something. It makes art more difficult: and 
every description of difficulty, vanquished, is a 
legitimate source of pride and satisfaction. 

You must allow me, Englishman as you are, 
to plead the cause of my own nation. I so often 
tell it unpalatable truths, that it is only just I 
should stroke it when I think it is in the right. 
Yes, sir, I have always believed, I now believe, and 
I always shall believe, that Paris is very superior 
to Athens in the matter of tragedies and comedies. 
Moliere, and even Regnard, seem to me to excel 
Aristophanes as much as Demosthenes excels 
our orators. I say boldly that I think all the 
Greek tragedies seem to me the work of school- 


boys as compared with the sublime scenes of 
Corneille and the perfect tragedies of Racine. 
Admirer of the ancients as he was, Boileau him- 
self thought this. He had no compunction in 
inscribing beneath the portrait of Racine that 
that great man had surpassed Euripides and 
equalled Corneille. 

Yes, I believe I can prove that there are more 
men of taste in Paris than in Athens. We have 
more than thirty thousand souls in Paris who 
delight in the fine arts, and Athens had not ten 
thousand; the lower orders of the Athenians 
frequented theatres only when a performance was 
given gratis on some great, or trivial, occasion. 
Our constant dealings with women have given us 
much greater delicacy of feeling, much more pro- 
priety of manners, and much more nicety of taste. 
Leave us our theatre, leave the Italians their favole 
boscareccie; you are rich enough in other respects. 

It is true that very bad pieces, absurdly intricate 
and barbarously written, have had, for a time, 
prodigious success in Paris, helped by a clique, 
party spirit, fashion, and the careless patronage 
of well-known persons. That is a passing madness ; 
in a very few years the illusion fades. Don Japhet 
d'Armenie and Jodelet are relegated to the populace, 
and the Siege de Calais has no longer any repute 
outside Calais. 


I must add one word on the rhyme with which 
you reproach me. Nearly all Dryden's pieces are 
in rhyme: which added to the difficulty of his 
task. The best remembered lines he ever wrote 
and the most widely quoted are rhymed: and I 
maintain again that, Cinna, Athalie, Iphigenie 
being in verse, any one who tried to shake off this 
yoke would, in France, be considered a weakling 
who had not the strength to support it. 

In my role of garrulous old man I will tell you 
an anecdote. I asked Pope one day why Milton 
had not versified his poem when all other poets 
versified theirs, in imitation of the Italians; he 
answered: "Because he could not." 

I have confessed, sir, all that was in my heart. 
I own that I was much in the wrong in not paying 
attention to the fact that the Count of Leicester 
was first called Dudley: but if the fancy takes you 
to enter the House of Lords and change your 
name, I shall always remember the name of Wal- 
pole with the profoundest esteem. 

Before despatching this letter, I have found time, 
sir, to read your Richard III. You would be an 
excellent attorney-general. You weigh all the 
pros and cons : still, I think I detect that you have 
a secret liking for the hunchback. You cannot 
help wishing he had been a pretty fellow, if not a 
fine fellow. 


Calmet, the Benedictine, wrote a long disserta- 
tion to prove that Christ had a beautiful counte- 
nance. I wish I could agree with you that Richard 
III was neither so ugly nor so wicked as he is 
said to have been: but I should not have cared to 
have had anything to do with him. Your white 
rose and your red rose were full of fearful thorns 
for the nation. 

Those gracious kings are all a pack of rogues. 

Truly, the history of the Yorkists and Lancas- 
trians, and many others, is much like reading the 
history of highway robbers. 

Yours, with respects, etc. 



To the Comte de Schomberg 

["I have never had the honour of seeing Mme. 
Gargantua" — this was the charming and fairy- 
like little Duchesse de Choiseul, the wife of the 
head of the French ministry. By 1769 Voltaire 
had established the silk-weaving industry at Fer- 


ney, and asked the Duchesse de Choiseul to ad- 
vertise it by accepting the first pair of stockings 
made on his looms. In mistake, she sent him a 
pattern shoe much too large for her. Hence the 
reference to "Mme. Gargantua" and the very 
misleading shoe which "proclaimed" her to be 
"one of the largest women in the world." 

" The [East] Indian Company . . . are now pay- 
ing dearly for the blood of Lally (see Letter 
LXXXIV, "The Last Letter"). 

" / always have a feverish attack about the 24th 
of that month [August] and about May 14th." 
The dates, respectively, of the Massacre of St. 
Bartholomew and the murder of Henri IV by 

August 31, 1769. 

Yes, sir, it is true that I have been very ill. 
But that is the common lot of old age, especially 
when one has always had a feeble constitution: 
and these little warnings are the stroke of the 
clock to tell us that soon we shall have passed 
beyond time. Animals have a great advantage 
over human beings: they never hear the clock 
strike, however intelligent they may be: they die 
without having any notion of death: they have 
no theologians to instruct them on the Four Ends 
of animals : their last moments are not disturbed 


by unwelcome and often objectionable ceremonies: 
it costs them nothing to be buried : no one goes to 
law over their wills: but in one respect we are 
greatly their superior — they only know the ties 
of habit, and we know friendship. Even spaniels, 
which have the reputation of being the most 
faithful friends in the world, do not approach 

You, sir, make me enjoy this consolation to its 
fullest extent. 

I have never had the honour of seeing Mme. 
Gargantua: the only thing I know about her is a 
shoe which proclaims her to be one of the largest 
women in the world: but I have seen letters of 
hers which make me believe that she ha? a wit 
even more delicate than her feet are enormous. . . . 

The [East] Indian Company, of whom you tell 
me, are now paying dearly for the blood of 
Lally: but who will pay for the blood of the 
Chevalier de la Barre? 

Do not be astonished, sir, that I have been ill 
in the month of August. I always have a feverish 
attack about the 24th of that month, as about 
May 14th. You will easily guess why, for your 
ancestors were so deeply attached to Henri IV. 
The thought of you and your visit are balm to my 
wounds. Keep a kindly recollection of me: I 
shall deeply value it. 




To M. d'Alembert 

[To Voltaire's account of the Case of Martin 
nothing need be added, save that such miscarriages 
of justice — and they were many — he never passed 
by on the other side. 

"/ have enough to do with the Sirven family" 
(see Letter LXII, "The Case of Calas and of the 
Sirvens" ). 

" The sentence of the Chevalier de la Barre has 
been condemned as an atrocity" (see Letter 
LXIII, "The Chevalier de la Barre" ). 

September 4, 1769. 

Martin was an agriculturist, with a large family, 
settled at Bleurville, in Barrois, on a farm of the 
Marche. Two years eight months ago a man 
was assassinated on the highroad near the village 
of Bleurville. Some sharp person, having noticed 
on that same road, between Martin's house and 
the place where the murder was committed, the 
impress of a shoe, Martin was arrested, and his 
shoes fitting more or less into the prints, he was 

After this preliminary, a witness came forward 



who had seen the murderer fleeing: Martin was 
confronted with the witness, who said he did not 
recognise him as the murderer: whereon Martin 
cried : "Thank God ! Here is one person who says 
he does not recognise me!" 

The judge, being very weak in his logic, thus 
interpreted the words: "Thank God! I have 
committed the murder, and have not been iden- 
tified by the witness." 

This judge, assisted by several local barristers, 
condemned Martin to the wheel, on an equivocal 
meaning. The case is sent up to La Tournelle of 
Paris: and the sentence being confirmed, Martin 
is executed in his own village. When he was 
stretched out on St. Andrew's cross, he asked 
permission of the sheriff's officer and the execu- 
tioner to raise his arms to call heaven to witness 
to his innocence, as he could not make himself 
heard by the crowd. He was allowed that favour: 
after which, his arms, thighs, and legs were broken, 
and he was left to die on the wheel. 

On the 26th July of this year, a scoundrel, who 
was executed in the neighbourhood, solemnly de- 
clared before he died that it was he who had 
committed the murder for which Martin had been 
broken on the wheel. However, notwithstanding, 
the little property of this innocent father of a 
family is confiscated and dissipated: the family 


was dispersed three years ago, and very likely does 
not even know that the father's innocence has at 
last been acknowledged. 

This comes from Neufchateau in Lorraine : two 
consecutive letters have confirmed the news. 

What should I do, my dear philosopher ? Villars 
ne pent pas etre partout. I can only lift my hands 
to heaven, like Martin, and take God to witness 
all the horrors which happen in His Work of Crea- 
tion. I have enough to do with the Sirven family 
— the daughters are still in my neighbourhood. 
I have sent the father to Toulouse : his innocence 
is as clearly demonstrated as a proposition of 
Euclid. The crass ignorance of a village doctor, 
and the still grosser ignorance of a subordinate 
judge, added to the grossness of fanaticism, has 
ruined a whole family, made them wanderers for 
six years, destitute, and begging their bread. 

Finally, I trust that the Parliament of Toulouse 
will make it its honour and duty to show Europe 
that it is not always led away by appearances, 
and is worthy of the work it has to do. This 
affair gives me more trouble and anxiety than an 
old invalid can well bear: but I shall never slacken 
my grip till I am dead — I am so pigheaded. 

Happily, for about ten years now, the Parliament 
has appointed young men with much sense, well 
read, and thinking — as you do. . . . 


I have just found among my papers a letter in 
Locke's handwriting, written just before his death 
to Lady Peterborough: it is pleasingly philo- 

The Turks' affairs go ill. How I should like 
to see those scoundrels hunted out of the country 
of Pericles and Plato: it is true, they are not per- 
secutors, but they are brutes. God defend us 
from both the one and the other ! . . . 

A propos, have you heard that the sentence of 
the Chevalier de la Barre has been condemned 
as an atrocity by four hundred Russian deputies 
appointed to frame a legal code? I believe that 
it will be spoken of in that code as an instance of 
the most horrible barbarity, and that it will be 
long cited throughout Europe to the eternal shame 
of our nation. 


To Mme. Necker 

[In 1770 a group of Voltaire's friends, headed 
by Mme. Necker — once the beloved of Gibbon, 
and now the wife of the Genevan banker who was 
to become Controller-General of France — pro- 
posed to erect, by public subscription, a statue 


of the Patriarch of Ferney, now seventy-six years 
old. The famous sculptor Pigalle undertook the 
work, which was not successful. Voltaire's boy- 
ish delight in the compliment peeps through the 
self-depreciation of the following letters.] 

May 21, 1770. 

My just modesty, madam, and my good sense 
made me at first think the scheme of a statue was 
only a joke: but, since the thing is serious, allow 
me to discuss it seriously with you. 

I am seventy-six years old and scarcely recov- 
ered from a severe illness, which for six weeks 
has dealt very hardly with both my body and my 
soul. M. Pigalle is supposed to be coming to 
model my face: but, madam, I must first have a 
face: you would hardly be able to guess where it 
ought to be. My eyes have sunk three inches, 
my cheeks are nothing but old parchment badly 
glued on to bones which have nothing to hold to. 
The few teeth I had have departed. This is not 
mere coquetry: it is the literal fact. M. Pigalle 
will think he is being made game of; and, from my 
own point of view, really I have too much vanity 
ever to appear before him. I should advise him, 
if he really wants to see this extraordinary venture 
through, to take, more or less, as his model the 
little Sevres china bust. After all, what does it 


matter to posterity if a block of marble resembles 
one man or another? I am perfectly philosophic 
on the subject. But, as I am still more grateful 
than philosophic, I give you, over what remains 
to me of a body, the same power that you have 
over what remains to me of a soul. Both are in a 
bad way: but my heart is as much yours, madam, 
as if I were five and twenty, and my respect for 
you is as sincere. My duty to M. Necker. 


To Mme. Necker 

Ferney, July 19, 1770. 

When the villagers here saw Pigalle getting out 
some of the tools of his craft, "Come along!" 
they cried, "he is going to be dissected; that will 
be great fun!" Any sort of show, as you know, 
madam, amuses people: they are equally ready 
to go to the marionettes, the fire at Saint-Jean, 
the Opera-Comique, High Mass, or a funeral. 
My statue will make a few philosophers laugh, 
and some rogue of a hypocrite or some scamp of a 
scribbler raise disapproving eyebrows: vanity of 
vanities ! 

But all is not vanity: my warm gratitude to 


my friends, and to you above all, madam, is not 

My respects to M. Necker. 


To Frederick William, Prince of Prussia 

[Prince Frederick William was the nephew of 
Frederick the Great and succeeded him on the 
throne of Prussia in 1786. 

" The System of Nature" — the famous work by 
Baron d'Holbach (who long disavowed it) on the 
necessity of atheism. Voltaire pronounced it "a 
sin against nature": passionately refuted it in the 
article on "God" in his Philosophical Dictionary: 
and declared that it did untold harm to the philo- 
sophic party. 

"Si Dieu n'existait -pas, il faudrait I'inventer" — 
"If God did not exist, He would have had to be 
invented" — this famous line — one of the most 
famous in literature — is, of course, Voltaire's own. 
It occurs in his Epistle to the Author of the Book of 
the Three Imposters, and he often quotes it him- 


Ferney, November 28, 1770, 

Monseigneur, the royal family of Prussia has 
excellent reasons for not wishing the annihilation 
of the soul. It has more right than anyone to 

It is very true that we do not know any too well 
what the soul is: no one has ever seen it. All 
that we do know is that the eternal Lord of nature 
has given us the power of thinking, and of distin- 
guishing virtue. It is not proved that this faculty 
survives our death: but the contrary is not proved 
either. It is possible, doubtless, that God has 
given thought to a particle to which, after we are 
no more, He will still give the power of thought: 
there is no inconsistency in this idea. 

In the midst of all the doubts which we have 
discussed for four thousand years in four thousand 
ways, the safest course is to do nothing against 
one's conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy 
life and have nothing to fear from death. 

There are some charlatans who admit no doubts. 
We know nothing of first principles. It is surely 
very presumptuous to define God, the angels, 
spirits, and to pretend to know precisely why 
God made the world, when we do not know why 
we can move our arms at our pleasure. 

Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty 
is an absurd one. 


What is most repellent in the System of Nature 
— after the recipe to make eels from flour — is the 
audacity with which it decides that there is no 
God, without even having tried to prove the im- 
possibility. There is some eloquence in the book: 
but much more rant, and no sort of proof. It is 
a pernicious work, alike for princes and people: 

"Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer. " 

But all nature cries aloud that He does exist: 
that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense 
power, an admirable order, and everything teaches 
us our own dependence on it. 

From the depth of our profound ignorance, let 
us do our best: this is what I think, and what I 
have always thought, amid all the misery and 
follies inseparable from seventy-seven years of 

Your Royal Highness has a noble career before 
you. I wish you, and dare prophesy for you, a 
happiness worthy of yourself and of your heart. 
I knew you when you were a child, monseigneur: 
1 visited you in your sick room when you had 
smallpox: I feared for your life. Your father 
honoured me with much goodness : you condescend 
to shower on me the same favours which are the 
honour of my old age, and the consolation of those 
sufferings which must shortly end it. I am, with 
deep respect, etc. 




To Lord Chesterfield 

[This was the great Lord Chesterfield, the friend 
of Pope, Swift, and Bolingbroke, and the author of 
the famous Letters to his natural son (see Letter 
LXXVI, "On Lord Chesterfield's Letters," and 
Letter LXXVII, "On the same Subject" ). 

During Voltaire's visit to England in 1726-7 
he had dined with Lord Chesterfield in London 
(and had been obliged to refuse a second invita- 
tion, as the vails expected by the servants were so 
high). In 1741, Lord Chesterfield had stayed with 
Voltaire in Brussels, and Voltaire had read aloud 
to him selections from his drama Mahomet, which 
Lord Chesterfield afterwards said he regarded as 
"a covert attack on Christianity." Lord Ches- 
terfield had retired from public life on account 
of ill-health and deafness many years before this 
letter was written. 

His "desirable lot" in the "great lottery" to which 
Voltaire refers, had included the posts of a privy 
counsellor, ambassador to the Hague, and lord- 
lieutenant of Ireland. 

" The fine house you have built yourself" was 
Chesterfield House in South Audley Street, May- 


fair. Lord Chesterfield said himself that "the 
only real comforts in the latter end of life" were 
"quiet, liberty, and health," so his views were in 
agreement with Voltaire's.] 

Ferney, September 24, 1771. 

Lord Huntington tells me that, of the five senses 
common to us all, you have only lost one, and 
that you have a good digestion : that is well worth 
a pair of ears. 

I, rather than you, should be the person to de- 
cide whether it is worse to be deaf or blind or to 
have a weak digestion. I can judge these three 
conditions from personal experience: only for a 
long time I have not dared to come to decisions 
on trifles, much less on subjects so important. I 
confine myself to the belief that, if you get the 
sun in the fine house you have built yourself, you 
will have very bearable moments. That is all 
that we can hope for at our ages, and, in fact, at 
any age. Cicero wrote a beautiful treatise on old 
age, but facts did not confirm his theories, and his 
last years were very miserable. You have lived 
longer and more happily than he did. You have 
not had to deal with perpetual dictators or trium- 
virs. Your lot has been, and is still, one of the 
most desirable in this great lottery, where the 
prizes are so rare, and the biggest one — lasting 


happiness — has never yet been gained by any- 

Your philosophy has never been misled by the 
wild dreams which have confused heads otherwise 
strong enough. You have never been, in any sort, 
either an impostor or the dupe of impostors, and 
I count that as one of the most uncommon ad- 
vantages of this brief life. 


To M. Diderot 

[For Diderot, see Letter XXVII, "On the Blind." 

"/ shall always regret having lived without seeing 
you." Voltaire saw Diderot in Paris, for the first 
and last time, five years later. 

" You send me the ' Fables ' of one of your friends. 
. . . to whom nature has given, in place of inspira- 
tion, much good sense," etc., etc. The friend was 
M. , Boisard, of the Literary Academy of Caen. 
Voltaire here forecasts Goethe's sentiment — "The 
older one grows, the more one prizes natural gifts, 
because by no possibility can they be procured 
and stuck on." 

" So much has been said of La Motte" — La Motte 
Fouquet, the German romancer who wrote Undine 


and who certainly cannot be compared with La 
Fontaine, whose Fables Mme. de Sevigne character- 
ised as "divine": and which are indeed marked, 
as Voltaire declares, by a delicate and exquisite 
inspiration — 'laissant tomber les fleurs et ne les 
semant pas." 

" The 'Armide ' of Quinault." One of the famous 
roles of Mdlle. Quinault, the actress. (See Letter 
XIX, "On a Quiet Life and a Fit of Discourage- 
ment." ) ] 

Perney, April 20, 1773. 

I was very pleasantly surprised, sir, to find a 
letter signed Diderot awaiting me when I had 
recrossed from one bank of Styx to the other. 

Imagine the joy of an old soldier scarred with 
wounds on receiving a letter from M. de Turenne. 
Nature has granted me leave to stay on a little 
longer in this world — that is to say, to poise for 
just a moment between two eternities (as if there 
could possibly be two of them). 

I shall therefore go on vegetating for a while 
at the foot of the Alps by the river of time, which 
sweeps away everything at last. My intellectual 
powers fade like a dream, but I shall always regret 
having lived without seeing you. 

You send me the Fables, written by one of 
your friends. If he is young, I answer for it he 
will go far: if he is not, it may be said of him that 


he writes with wit what he has originated with 
talent: so much has been said of La Motte. Who 
would think there could be any higher praise? 
but there is that accorded to La Fontaine: he 
wrote perfectly spontaneously. In all the arts there 
is a something exceedingly difficult to come by. 
All the philosophers of the world, melted down 
together, would not have succeeded in portraying 
the Armide of Quinault, nor the Les Animaux 
Malades de la Peste which La Fontaine wrote, 
without knowing what he did, almost uncon- 
sciously. Let us confess that in works of genius 
everything is the result of instinct. Corneille 
wrote the scene of Horace and Curiace as a bird 
makes its nest, which a bird always does well — 
that not being at all the case with our wretched 
talents. M. Boisard seems to me a very pretty 
bird of Parnassus, to whom nature has given, in 
place of the instincts of genius, much good sense, 
truth, and acuteness. I enclose a letter of thanks 
to him. The after-effects of my illness, from which 
I still suffer, do not permit me to write at length. 
Be sure that I shall look on you, till I die, as a 
man who has had the courage to be useful to the 
thankless, and who deserves the commendation 
of all wise men — I regard and esteem you as if I 
were myself a wise man. 

The Old Invalid of Ferney. 



To M. Turgot 

[Just a week before this letter was written, 
Turgot, one of the wisest and greatest of the states- 
men of France, was appointed Minister of Marine 
by the young King Louis XVI. A month later 
he was made Controller General of Finance. Hon- 
est, enlightened, and disinterested, he was also 
the friend of the philosophers, and had pleaded in 
the Calas case on the side of tolerance. In this, 
and the following letter, Voltaire expresses opin- 
ions of him which time and history have ratified. 
Two years later, in 1776, he was dismissed from 
his high office by the frivolous Queen : the abuses 
he had abolished were re-established : France went 
her lighthearted way to ruin: and old Voltaire 
at Ferney wrote that this was death before death, 
and that a thunderbolt had fallen on his head and 
his heart. When he was on his last visit to Paris 
in 1778 he went to see Turgot. "Let me kiss the 
hand," says old Voltaire, "which signed the 
salvation of the people." 

"M. de Condorcet." See Letter LXXV, "On 
Turgot and Ferney."] 


Perney, July 28, 1774. 

M. de Condorcet tells me that he was never 
really happy until the day M. Turgot was made 
Secretary of State. 

And I, too, sir, am grieved to be so near death 
now that I see virtue and reason in their rightful 
place. You will be overwhelmed with heartfelt 
congratulations — and you will be one of the very 
few who has ever received them. Far be it from 
me to ask you to reply to me : but while I chant a 
De Profundis with my failing breath for myself, 
I sing aloud Te Deum laudamus for you. 

The happy old dying invalid of Ferney, 


To M. le Marquis de Condorcet 

[The Marquis de Condorcet, the Aristocrat of the 
philosophic party, who poisoned himself to escape 
the guillotine, had been made in 1773, Perpetual 
Secretary of the Academy of Sciences. In 1770 
he had stayed at Ferney with d'Alembert — to 
whom Voltaire alludes in this letter as "M. Ber- 
trand" — one of d'Alembert's pen-names. Vol- 
taire had the greatest admiration for the modest 


and disinterested character of the young marquis 
— Condorcet was twenty-seven at the date of the 
visit to Ferney — as well as for his splendid intel- 
lectual gifts and his noble ideals. "You will see 
great days," the old patriarch wrote to him: "you 
will make them." 

"Ferney has become . . . a pretty considerable 
place . . . not unworthy the attention of the Min- 
istry." By 1770 Voltaire had added watch- 
making to the silk-weaving industry he had 
established at Ferney (see Letter LXVII, "On 
the Advantages of being a Brute"). The quarrels 
of Geneva (which France had only made worse 
by "mediation" in the form of an armed force — 
see Letter LXV, "On the Jesuits and Catherine 
the Great ") threatening the existence of the watch- 
makers there, Voltaire had bidden them welcome 
at Ferney: and presently built "the large and lofty 
stone houses" he here alludes to for their benefit. 
He had not only, as he says, "never asked the gov- 
ernment for money" for the scheme, but had most 
liberally expended his own. He succeeded in 
obtaining for his colonists their exemption from 
a pitiless tax which extorted from the poverty- 
stricken province of Gex alone forty thousand 
livres annually. All the same, after his death, 
Ferney did in a measure relapse into the "nothing- 
ness whence " he "drew it" and its industries de- 


clined: and "Ferney- Voltaire" is now only a 
straggling suburb of Geneva, with Voltaire's 
charmingly situated house and grounds and the 
church he built perpetual objects of interest, for 
the memories which cling to them.] 

Ferney, August 12, 1774. 

I shall not write to you to-day, Mr. Secretary, 
on either arts or sciences, which are beginning to 
be much indebted to you, nor on liberty of con- 
science, of which people have tried to rob the arts 
which cannot exist without it. 

You filled my heart with a holy joy when you 
told me that the King replied to the malcontent 
who told him that M. Turgot was an Encyclo- 
paedist. "He is an honest and an enlightened 
man: that suffices me." Did you ever know 
before kings and sensible men to be of the same 
mind ? 

Do you know, and does M. Bertrand know, that 
the poet Kien-long, Emperor of China, said as 
much a few years ago ? Did you read in the thirty- 
second miscellany of (so-called) Curious and 
Edifying Letters the letter of a fool of a Jesuit 
called Benoit to a rogue of a Jesuit called Dugad ? 
It is there stated in so many words that a Minister 
of State accusing a mandarin of being a Christian, 
the Emperor Kien-long asked: "Does his pro- 


vince complain of him?"— "No."— "Does he 
render justice impartially?"— "Yes."— "Has he 
failed in his duty towards the state?"— "No."— 
"Is he a good father to his family?"— "Yes."— 
"Why then dismiss him for a mere nothing?" 

If you see M. Turgot, tell him this anecdote. 

I send you a copy of a petition I have jotted 
down for all the ministers. The only one I have 
not sent it to is the King. I am exceedingly anx- 
ious that this petition should be presented to the 
Chamber of Commerce, where M. Turgot may have 
the casting vote. I have at least the consolation 
that, in spite of such shining lights as Freron, 
Clement, and Sabotier, Ferney has become, since 
you saw it, a pretty considerable place, which is 
not unworthy the attention of the ministry. It 
contains not only fairly large and lofty stone 
houses for the manufacturers, but pretty little 
country seats which would be an ornament to 
Saint-Cloud or Meudon. It will all relapse into 
the nothingness whence I drew it, if the ministry 
abandons us. I am perhaps the only founder of 
a manufactory who has never asked the govern- 
ment for money. Now, I only ask it to attend to 
its own interests. I appoint you and M. Bertrand 
the judges of the case. 

I should much like to consult you both on an 
affair which would interest you much more, and 


on which I am about to embark — I appeal to God 
and to yourselves to help its success. It concerns 
our good cause : so I can count on your aid. My 
respects to you both. 



To Mme. du Deffand 

[These famous Letters of Lord Chesterfield (see 
Letter LXXII, "On Happiness in Old Age") 
to his son Philip Stanhope are the embodiment 
of worldliness expressed with an exquisite elegance. 
If they were, as Voltaire here calls them, "the 
best educational manual that has ever appeared," 
they failed signally in their chief aim — to make 
Philip an agreeable person: though they left 
him an honest man. It was his widow who, 
shortly after Lord Chesterfield's death in 1773, 
sold the Letters to a publisher — the relatives 
vainly trying to stop the publication. Either 
with or without a permit, a French translation 
of them did appear in Paris a year after Voltaire 
wrote this letter. 

" The great Moncrief, who found out how to please 
an august Queen of France" Moncrief wrote 
Essays on the Art and Necessity of Being Pleasant, 


and the "august Queen" was Marie Leczinska, 
Queen of France — from whose privy purse (when 
she was a young bride at the French Court) 
Voltaire had received a pension. 

"Verses . . . with which Louis XFI is deluged" 
— on his accession, which had taken place three 
months earlier, in May, 1774. 

" The Due de Choiseul" — the French minister, 
and an old friend of Voltaire's. The Due had 
helped him in the affair of Calas and had protected 
his colony of watchmakers and weavers at Ferney. 
His wife was the airy, fairy little Duchess — the 
dear "grandmere" of Mme. du Deffand, who had 
coquetted with Voltaire over the first pair of silk 
stockings woven in the Ferney looms (see Letter 
LXVII, "On the Advantages of Being a Brute"). 
Since then, in 1770, Choiseul had been disgraced 
and exiled through the machinations of Mme. 
Dubarry, the royal mistress; and Voltaire had 
considerably offended him by embracing the policy 
of his supplanter, Maupeou.] 

August 12, 1774. 

... I much wish someone would translate at 
once and well, for your amusement, the two 
large volumes of The Letters of Lord Chesterfield 
to his Son, Philip Stanhope. They mention a num- 
ber of people you used to know. There is much 


to be learnt from them: I am not sure they do 
not form the best educational manual that has 
ever appeared. They describe all the courts of 
Europe. Lord Chesterfield tries to make his son 
an agreeable person, and shows him the means 
to become so — and his are better means than 
those of the great Moncrief, who found out how 
to please an august Queen of France. 

Save for the admission that he knew how to 
make himself pleasant, Lord Chesterfield has 
nothing good to say about Marshal Richelieu. 
He advises his son to become the lover of Mme. 
du P. . ., and sends him a model of a declaration 
of love. 

I am much afraid that the book will be trans- 
lated by some clerk in the shop of your friend 
Freron, or some other bookseller's hack. 

A man of the world ought to take the trouble to 
translate it: but its publication in France would 
never be permitted. If I were in Paris I would 
read you some of the letters in French — with the 
English original before me : but my state of health 
does not permit me to come to Paris: and besides, 
I have had the audacity to found a sort of little 
town in my wilds, and to establish manufactories 
here which demand my presence and my constant 
attention. My works in the country are chains 
I cannot break. I follow my ploughs in my 


carriage: my labourers only ask that I should 
keep well, with my wits about me, and write them 
verses to put in the Mercure. 

It seems to me that when Louis XIV took the 
reins of government he had better verses ad- 
dressed to him than those'with which Louis XVI 
is deluged. I sincerely pity him if he is obliged to 
read them. 

You are sure to know, madam, if the Due de 
Choiseul has really bought the post of High Cham- 
berlain from the Due de Bouillon. It would be a 
good thing indeed that a man of such loftiness of 
character should be perpetually bound to the 
Court by some high office. I must end, having 
no more paper. My tenderest respects. 



To Frederick the Great 

[Since their rupture in 1753, Frederick and 
Voltaire had corresponded; sometimes with the 
old warmth and fervour; sometimes coldly and 
politely; and once, for four years, not at all. 
Both knew if they met they would quarrel again: 
they feared and distrusted each other; and yet 


sometimes, as this letter shows, yearned for each 
other like estranged lovers.] 

August 16, 1774. 

... A collection of the late Lord Chesterfield's 
Letters has appeared, addressed to a natural son 
to whom he was as much attached as Mme. de 
Sevigne to her daughter. 

These letters very often speak of you: and do 
you the full justice which posterity will also render 

The approval of Lord Chesterfield has very 
great weight, not only because he belongs to a 
nation who hardly ever flatters even kings, but 
because he is perhaps the most graceful of English 
writers. His admiration for you is above sus- 
picion: he had no idea that his Letters would be 
published after his death and after that of his son. 
They are being translated into French in Holland : 
so your Majesty will soon see them. You will 
read the only Englishman who ever advocated the 
art of pleasing as the first duty in life. 

I never forget that my dearest wish was once 
to please you: it is now not to displease you. 
Everything grows feeble with age : the more one 
realises one's shortcomings, the more modest one 

Your old admirer. 




To M. de Farges 

[M. de Farges was a Councillor of State. 

Voltaire gives here an admirable description of 
the condition of the country poor before the Re- 
volution, and as in the sarcastic letter to M. de 
Bastide (Letter LIX, "Social Conditions in 
1760"), emphasises the fact that it was not the 
iniquitous extortion of the taxes which so much op- 
pressed them but the cruel and rapacious charac- 
ter of the tax-gatherers. Gabelle, or the tax on 
salt, to which Voltaire alludes here, compelled each 
person to buy seven pounds of salt per year at a 
price which varied in the different provinces and 
was everywhere iniquitously high. The nobles, 
clergy, and government officials were exempt from 
the tax altogether. No wonder in a very few 
years' time the Gabelle was as a fuse to the fire 
of the Great Revolution.] 

Ferney, February 25, 1776. 

Sir, since thou wouldest enter into judgment 
with thy servant, permit me to tell you that, if 
I could leave my bed (being now in my eighty-third 
year and the victim of many maladies), I should 


hasten to throw myself at the feet of the Controller 
General: and this is how I should prose on the 
subject of our states: 

Our little country is worse than Sologne and the 
miserable land of Champagne, and worse than 
the worst parts of Bordeaux. 

Notwithstanding our wretchedness, eight and 
twenty parishes sang eight and twenty Te Deums 
and shouted eight and twenty "Long live the 
Kings and Long live M. Turgots!" We shall 
cheerfully pay thirty thousand francs to the sixty 
sub-kings — being delighted to die of hunger, on 
condition of being delivered from seventy-eight 
rogues who made us die of rage. 

We agree with you that near Paris, Milan, and 
Naples the land can support all the taxes, because 
the land is productive: but it is not the same with 
us : in good years the yield is three to one, often 
two, sometimes nothing, and needs six oxen to 
plough it. Seeds are fruitful once only in ten 

You will ask what we live on: I answer, On 
black bread and potatoes, and principally on the 
sale of the wood which our peasants cut in the 
forests and take to Geneva. Even this means 
of subsistence constantly fails, for the forests are 
devastated here much more than in the rest of the 


I may remark, in passing, that timber will soon 
be scarce in France, and that lately wood for firing 
is being bought in Prussia. 

As I want to be perfectly frank, I own that we 
make certain cheeses on some of the Jura moun- 
tains in June, July, and August. 

Our chief means of livelihood is at the end of 
our fingers. Our peasants, having nothing to live 
on, have been diligently working at watchmaking 
for the Genevese — the Genevese making thereat 
ten millions of francs per annum, and paying the 
workmen of the province of Gex exceedingly badly. 

An old man, who took it into his head to settle 
between Switzerland and Geneva, has established 
a watch manufactory in the province of Gex which 
pays the workmen of the country exceedingly 
well, which increases the population, and which, 
if protected by the Government, will supersede the 
business of wealthy Geneva: but this old man 
is not much longer for this world. 

We exist, then, solely through our industry. 
But I ask if this watchmaking, which will bring 
in ten thousand francs a year, which profits by 
salt much more than do the agriculturists, cannot 
help these agriculturists with the thirty thousand 
francs indemnity they must pay for their salt ? 

I ask if these fat inn-keepers, who make even 
more than the watchmakers, and consume more 


salt, ought not also to assist the unfortunate 
proprietors of a wretched soil ? 

The big manufacturers, the hotel-keepers, the 
butchers, the bakers, the tradesmen, know so 
well the miserable condition of the country and 
the favours of the ministry that they have all 
offered to help us with a small contribution. 

Either permit this contribution, or slightly 
reduce the exorbitant sum of thirty thousand 
livres which the sixty deputy-kings demand from 

One of these sub-kings named Basemont has 
just died, worth, it is said, eighteen millions [of 
francs]. Was there any need for that scamp to 
flay us alive in order that our skin might bring 
him five hundred livres ? 

Here, sir, are a few of the grievances which I 
should lay at the feet of the Controller General: 
but I say nothing, I leave all to you. If you are 
moved by my reasonings you will deign to be so 
good as to present them: if they strike you as bad, 
you will whistle them down the wind. 

If I do wrong to plead thus feebly for my coun- 
try, I am undoubtedly right in saying that I have 
the greatest esteem for your enlightenment, the 
greatest gratitude for your kindnesses, and that 
I am, with the sincerest respects, yours, sir, etc., 



To the Baron de Fauglres 

[The Baron de Faugbres was a naval officer. 

" Castel suggests an ocular harpsichord." Castel 
was a French mathematician who experimented 
in natural philosophy. In his book called Optique 
des Couleurs or Treatise on the Melody of Colours, 
which he produced in 1740, he had tried to illus- 
strate his subject by the clavecin oculaire or ocular 

"Needham fancies he can produce eels out of a 
little soup." Needham was an English eighteenth 
century scientist and a friend of Buffon. Like 
Castel, he was a Jesuit — which may account for 
some of Voltaire's contempt for their theories. 
Needham' s — "that animals are brought to life 
from putridity" — is certainly not so ridiculous 
as Voltaire supposed it. Needham wrote in a 
most involved and confusing style, which would 
be particularly objectionable to Voltaire's lucid 

" The great epoch in which the brutes, our ancestors, 
developed into men." It is certainly something of 
an anomaly to find a Voltaire laughing, in advance, 
at the Darwinian theory.] 


May 3, 1776. 

You suggest, sir, that round the statue raised 
at Montpellier— - To Louis XIV, after his death — 
monuments should be erected to those great men 
who were the glory of his age. 

This project is the more commendable because 
for many years there seems to have been a sort 
of cabal among us to depreciate everything which 
made that splendid epoch renowned. People are 
weary of the masterpieces of the last century. 
They try to belittle Louis XIV and reproach him 
for his desire for fame. The nation in general 
prefers Henri IV to the exclusion of all other kings : 
I do not ask if this is from justice or from incon- 
stancy — if, being better informed, we know more 
of the truth to-day than we did formerly. I 
merely remark that we do not in the slightest 
degree realise or feel the grandeur of the times 
which succeeded the age of Henri IV. 

"They have not understood me," said that good 
Prince to the Due de Sully. "But they will re- 
gret me." And, indeed, sir, to speak plainly, 
he was much hated and little respected. Fanati- 
cism, which persecuted him from his cradle, con- 
spired a hundred times against his life, and finally 
snatched it from him by the hand of an ex-monk 
— a madman, maddened by the madness of the 
League. We now make him honourable amends: 


we prefer him above all our kings, although we 
kept, and kept for a long time, many of the bigot- 
ries which inspired the assassination of our hero. 

But if Henri IV was great, not so his age in 
any way. I am not speaking of the innumerable 
crimes and infamies with which superstition and 
rebellion defiled France. I allude only to the 
arts whose glory you seek to perpetuate. They 
were either ignored or very ill carried on — begin- 
ning with the art of war. It was waged for forty 
years without a single man gaining the reputation 
of a clever general — without one whom posterity 
can compare with a Prince of Parma or a Prince 
of Orange. As for the navy, you, sir, who are 
yourself one of its ornaments, must know that it 
had practically no existence. The arts of peace, 
which make the charm of society, which beautify 
our towns, which enlighten our minds and soften 
our manners, were perfectly unknown to us, and 
only came into existence in the age which saw the 
birth and death of Louis XIV. 

I find it difficult to understand the dead set 
which is made upon Colbert's memory to-day — 
Colbert, who contributed so much to the welfare 
of the navy which is so close to your heart. You 
are well aware, sir, that he was the creator of that 
navy which became so formidable. Two years 
previous to his death, France had one hundred 


and eighty ships of war and thirty galleys. Manu- 
factures, commerce, trade — in both east and west 
— were all due to him. It is possible to surpass 
him, but never to eclipse him. 

It is just the same in the arts of the mind — 
oratory, poetry, philosophy — and in the arts where 
the mind directs the hand — architecture, painting, 
sculpture, mechanics. The men who adorned the 
age of Louis XIV by such talents as these will 
never be forgotten, whatever be the merit of their 
successors. The forerunners in a career will al- 
ways remain at the head of their fellows in the 
eyes of posterity. As Newton said in his dispute 
with Leibnitz, all the honour is the inventor's: 
and he was right. A Pascal must be regarded as 
an originator, for he started a new species of elo- 
quence: a Pelisson, for he defended Fouquet in 
the same way as Cicero defended King Deiotarus 
before Caesar: a Corneille, for he created French 
tragedy even though he copied the Spanish Cid: 
a Moliere, for he originated and perfected comedy: 
a Descartes, for he would have perfected geometry 
had he not wandered in his inventions from his 
model: while had Malebranche only known how 
to curb his imagination, what a man among men 
he would have been ! 

Everyone agrees that this great century was the 
age of genius, but so often, after the originators, 


come — I do not say disciples taught in the school 
of their masters, for they are laudable — but apes 
who try to spoil the work of their inimitable lead- 
ers. Thus, after Newton discovered the nature 
of light, Castel, to outdo him, suggests an ocular 

No sooner has a new world in miniature been 
discovered by the microscope, than a Needham 
fancies he can produce eels out of a little soup or 
out of a drop of water boiled with wheat ears in 
it. Animals and vegetables being thus brought 
into being without seed, this crowning absurdity is 
called the sublime achievement of natural history. 

No sooner has the real philosopher calculated 
the effect of sun and moon on the tides, than ro- 
mancers, inferior to Cyrano de Bergerac, write the 
history of the time when the seas covered the Alps 
and the Caucasus, and when the universe was 
only peopled by fish. They end by discovering 
that very remarkable epoch in which the brutes, 
our ancestors, developed into men, and their 
forked tails turned into thighs and legs. This is 
the great service which Telliamed has recently 
rendered to humankind. Thus, sir, in all the arts 
and in all the professions, impostors succeed the 
genuine discoverers: heaven grant that all the 
charlatans we have to do with may be as harm- 


Success to your project! May all the men of 
genius who adorned the time of Louis XIV reap- 
pear in the square at Montpellier, round that 
king's statue, and inspire the ages to come to an 
eternal emulation! 



To M. Gin 

[M. Gin had sent Voltaire his book, The True 
Principles of French Government as shown by Rea- 
son and Facts. 

The "Esprit des Lois" (see Letter LVI, "A 
Profession of Faith," in which Voltaire also alludes 
to Montesquieu's inaccuracy, which was noto- 
rious) . 

" The President Montesquieu" (see Letter 
XXV, "On Corneille and Racine"). He was 
President of the Parliament of Bordeaux.] 

Ferney, June 20, 1777 

Omitting, sir, the compliments and thanks I 
owe you, I begin by assuring you that despotic and 
monarchical are the same thing in the hearts of 
all sensible people. Despot (herus) means mas- 
ter, and monarch means sole master, which is very 


much stronger. A fly is monarch of the imper- 
ceptible animalculae which it devours: the spider 
is the monarch of flies, for it ensnares and eats 
them: the swallow rules the spiders : shrikes devour 
the swallows: and so on indefinitely. You will 
not deny that the farmers-general devour us: 
you know the world has been so made since the 
beginning. But that does not prevent your be- 
ing most clearly in the right as opposed to the 
Abbe Mably, and I return you, sir, therefore a 
thousand thanksgivings. You arrive at the happy 
conclusion that monarchical government is the 
best of all ; always provided that Marcus Aurelius 
is the monarch: for, otherwise, what can it matte r 
to a man if he is devoured by a lion or by a trib e 
of rats? You appear, sir, to be of the opinion 
of the Esprit des Lois in granting that the prin- 
ciple of monarchies is honour, and the principle 
of republics virtue. If you were not of this opin- 
ion, I should be of the Due d'Orleans' (the Re- 
gent's), who said of one of our great lords : " He 
is the most perfect courtier — he has neither hu- 
mour nor honour": and I should tell President 
Montesquieu, if he hopes to prove his thesis by 
saying that under a monarchy men seek honours, 
that they seek them much more in republics. In 
them, they strive for the honour of ovation, tri- 
umph, and all the dignities. The office of doge 


at Venice is sought after, though this indeed is 
vanitas vanitatum. For the rest, sir, you are much 
more methodical than that Esprit des Lois 
and you never misquote as he does — a most im- 
portant point: for if you verify Montesquieu's 
quotations you will hardly find four that are 
correct; I once had the pleasure of testing them. 
I am much edified, sir, by your discretion in stop- 
ping at the reign of Henri IV : all you say affords 
me information: and I take the liberty of divin- 
ing much that you do not say. Above all, I am 
grateful to you for your way of thinking and of 
expressing ' yourself on the barbarous method of 
government called feudal: it is brought to perfec- 
tion, it is said, at the diet of Ratisbon: it is ab- 
horred half a mile from me here, to my right and 
to my left ; but, by one of our French anomalies, 
it exists in all its horrors just behind my kitchen 
garden, in the valleys of Mount Jura ; and twelve 
thousand slaves of the canons of Saint Claud, who 
have had the insolence to desire to be subjects of 
the king instead of serfs and beasts of burden to 
the monks, have just lost their suit to the Parlia- 
ment of Besancon, while many councillors of the 
Grand Chambre have lands where the mortmain 
is in full vigour, in spite of the edicts of our kings : 
so uniform is jurisprudence amongst us! Finally, 
your book instructs and cheers me: I love its 

From the portrait by Schoff 


method and style. You do not write to parade 
your wit, as does the author of the Esprit des 
Lois and the Lettres Persanes: you use your wits 
to discover the truth. Judge then, sir, of my 
indebtedness to you for the honour you have 
done me in sending me your work: judge if I have 
read it with pleasure and if I am merely employ- 
ing an empty formula when I assure you that I 
have the honour to be, with the deepest esteem 
and the most heartfelt gratitude, etc., etc. 



To the Abbe Gaultier 

[In 1778, Voltaire, being now in his eighty-fourth 
year, decided, against the advice of his best friends, 
to leave Ferney on a visit to Paris. He was over- 
whelmed with homage and attentions — in one 
day alone he received three hundred visitors. 
By Sunday, February 15th, he was too ill to leave 
the house. On that day, as recorded in this letter, 
Benjamin Franklin — the American statesman, 
philosopher, diplomatist, now seventy-two years 
old, and in Paris on a diplomatic mission to secure 
foreign assistance for America in the war she was 
then waging with Great Britain — brought his 


grandson to receive the patriarch's blessing. 
(Franklin's efforts had been so far successful that 
on February 6, 1778, — a week or two before this 
letter was written, — Louis XVI had signed a treaty 
of alliance with the United States — see Letter 
LXXXII, "Paris: 1778.") It is said that Vol- 
taire and Franklin talked of the government and 
constitution of that free country. "If I were 
forty," said Voltaire, "I should go and settle in 
your happy fatherland." 

On February 20th Voltaire received a letter from 
the Jesuit Abbe Gaultier, who was anxious for the 
salvation of the sceptic's soul and that he himself 
should have the prestige of saving it. To this 
letter Voltaire made the following reply, and on 
February 21st accorded Gaultier a long interview, 
in which he accepted the abbe as his confessor — 
since to ensure decent and Christian burial a con- 
fessor was a necessary evil — and promised to see 
him again. Gaultier played no insignificant part 
in the extraordinary scenes which took place 
round Voltaire's deathbed: and in the struggle 
for his conversion showed more mercy and modera- 
tion than some of his brethren.] 

Paris, February 21, 1778. 

Your letter, sir, seems to me to be that of an 
honest man: that is sufficient to determine me to 

PARIS: 1778 263 

receive the honour of a visit from you on the day 
and at the hour most convenient to you. I shall 
say to you exactly what I said when I gave my 
blessing to the grandson of the wise and famous 
Franklin, the most honoured of American citizens: 
I spoke only these words, "God and liberty." All 
present were greatly moved. I flatter myself 
that you share these aspirations. 

I am eighty-four years of age: I am about to 
appear before God, the Creator of all the universe. 
If you have anything to say to me, it will be my 
duty and privilege to receive you, despite the suf- 
ferings which overwhelm me. 

I have the honour to be, etc., 



PARIS: 1778 

To the Marquis de Florian at Bijou-Ferney 

[The Marquis de Florian was the second husband 
of Voltaire's niece, Mme. de Fontaine. After her 
death in 1772 he had married a pretty little Pro- 
testant whom he had met at Voltaire's home: 
and the couple had taken up their abode at a 
little house near Ferney. 


"Half dead this last fortnight since his accident." 
On February 25th Voltaire had broken a blood- 
vessel and had been alarmingly ill. 

"You know there has been much talk of war" 
— against England, France having pledged herself 
to intervene as the ally of America (see Letter 
LXXXI, "A Dying Testimony"). 

" Neckers lottery tickets." Necker was Director 
General of the disastrous finances of France.] 

Paris, March 15, 1778. 

The old invalid has been unable to write sooner 
to M. and Mme. de Florian. He has been half 
dead this last fortnight since his accident; and 
he has had to endure all the miseries inevitable to 
such a condition. He seizes a moment when he 
is somewhat easier to tell M. and Mme. de Florian 
that if he had quite died it would have been with 
the warmest affection for them and trusting them 
not to forget him. 

You know there has been much talk of war in 
Paris: that the King has declared, through his 
Ambassador in London, that he desires peace, 
but that he must insist on his flag and commerce 
being respected. The treaty with the Americans 
is made public. I saw M. Franklin at my own 
house, as I was too ill to visit him: he asked me 
to give my blessing to his grandson. I gave it, 

PARIS: 1778 265 

saying only "God and liberty" — in the presence of 
twenty people who were in my room. 

The English Ambassador came about an hour 
later. The kindness I have received both from 
the Court and from the city has been far above 
my hopes, and even my wishes: but I have not 
found the time a favourable one to ask for pecu- 
niary help for my colony. The King is too deeply 
in debt. The fleet has cost an immense sum. 
Eighty out of a thousand of Necker's lottery 
tickets are worthless. There is no longer any 
question of economy — only a desire for vengeance. 
M. d'Estaing is in command of a formidable squad- 
ron, and M. de la Motte-Piquet of another. 

You know that M. Dupuits is at Paris, and hopes 
to find a post. It is quite possible that without 
any declaration of war some shots will be ex- 
changed. For my part — who am perfectly pacific 
— I only expect to be done to death by the pol- 
troons who are always prating to me of Shake- 
speare, Vauxhall, Roast Beef, English mountebanks, 
and English lords. 

I beg M. de Florian's pardon for entering into 
these details. I would much rather have had a 
road made outside his house: but I see it is easier 
to cure oneself of spitting blood than to get 
money out of an involved government which has 
not even the wherewithal to pay poor Racle. Here, 


there is everywhere revolting luxury and frightful 
misery. Paris is the headquarters of all the follies, 
blunders, and horrors conceivable. 

When shall I see Ferney again and embrace the 
master and mistress of Bijou ! 


To Frederick the Great 

[This is the last letter of the long and famous 
correspondence between Frederick and Voltaire. 
Old Frederick, like young Frederick, could still 
take flattery in immense doses: and old Voltaire, 
like young Voltaire, does not scruple to administer 
them. But his last letter to "Frederick the Im- 
mortal" is, like his first, the letter of the man 
who more than any other of his generation loved 
that men should be enlightened, and had worked 
all his life that those "paid to blind them" should 
not always be able to "put out their eyes."] 

Paris, April i, 1778. 

Sire, the French gentleman who will present 
this letter to your Majesty, and who seems to be 
worthy of entering your presence, will tell you 


that I have not had the honour of writing to you 
for so long a time because I have been engaged in 
avoiding two things which pursue me in Paris — 
excitement and death. 

It is really amusing that at eighty-four years of 
age I should have been saved from two mortal 
maladies. My good fortune comes from being 
under your protection: I owe my reputation to 

I have been the witness — with surprise and a 
deep satisfaction — at the performance of a new 
tragedy, of the public (who for thirty years re- 
garded Constantine and Theodosius as models of 
princes and even of saints) rapturously applaud- 
ing verses which proclaimed the two of them to 
be no better than superstitious tyrants. I have 
seen twenty similar proofs of the progress which 
philosophy has made at last in all ranks. I do 
not despair, in a month or two, of having a pane- 
gyric pronounced on the Emperor Julian; and 
assuredly, if the Parisians remember that he 
rendered justice among them like Cato, and that 
he fought for them like Caesar, they should be 
eternally grateful to him. 

It is then true, sire, that, finally, men will be 
enlightened, and that those paid to blind them will 
not always put out their eyes! Thanks for that 
to your Majesty. You have conquered bigotry 


as you have conquered your foes: you can con- 
gratulate yourself on institutions of every kind. 
You are the vanquisher of superstition as you are 
the bulwark of Germanic liberty. 

Outlive me to establish all the empires you have 
founded! May Frederick the Great be Frederick 
the Immortal ! 

Accept my unalterable devotion. 





To the Comte de Lally 

[General Lally, the father of Lally-Tollendal, 
the man to whom this letter is addressed, was an 
Irish Jacobite who had plotted in France for the 
restoration of the Stuarts : and in India, unsuccess- 
fully, against the British East India Company. 

On his return to France, partly to punish him 
for his failure and partly to please England, the 
French Government threw him into the Bastille: ab- 
surdly charging him with having sold Pondicherry 
to his enemies, the English, and on many other 
counts, not less ridiculous. On May 6, 1766, be- 
ing then sixty-four years old, he was gagged, 


handcuffed, and beheaded. A month later, Vol- 
taire was writing to d'Alembert, "I will stake my 
neck on it he was not a traitor." Seven years 
later Lally's son implored Voltaire's help to excul- 
pate his father's memory, and for many weeks 
Voltaire was engaged "night and day" in writing 
The Historical Fragments of the History of India 
and of General Lally which ably and conclusively 
proved the wronged man's innocence. 

On May 26, 1778, when old Voltaire was dying 
at the Hotel Villette in Paris, Louis XVI in council 
publicly vindicated General Lally. 

By a last mighty effort, the dying man recalled 
the splendid intellect, now waning fast, which had 
so nobly served him, and dictated the following let- 
ter to the Comte de Lally-Tollendal. Then he 
made someone write in a large hand on a sheet 
of paper, which he caused to be pinned to his bed 
hangings, the following words : 

"On May 26th, the judicial murder committed 
by Pasquier (Councillor to the Parliament) upon 
the person of Lally was avenged by the Council 
of the King." 

It was his last conscious act. He died four days 
later, on May 30, 1778. There have been few 
men with whom the ruling passion of hatred of 
tyranny, oppression, injustice, has been so strong 
in death: and better men, who, in their last hours 


have found it impossible to think of any soul but 
their own.] 

May 26, 1778. 

The dying man returns to life on hearing this 
great news: he tenderly embraces M. de Lally: 
he sees that the King is the defender of justice: 
and he dies content. 

Jh Selection from the 
Catalogue of 


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Matthew Hargraves 


S. G. Tallentyre 

Author of " Bassett," " Life of Voltaire," etc. 

12°. $1.50 net. By mail, $1.60 

To those discriminating readers of fiction 
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have made a commonplace man thoroughly 


The Life of Voltaire 

8vo. New Edition. Entirely Reset. With 16 
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The narrative of the life and work of a 
man who, perhaps more than any other of 
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The Life of Mirabeau 


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The two great representative Frenchmen of the 
eighteenth century are Voltaire and Mirabeau. 
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